For those of you still recovering from watching THAT asteroid-induced tidal wave take out a father and daughter as they calmly contemplated their imminent deaths (see the movie “Deep Impact” for details), the idea of grabbing asteroids in space might make you sigh with relief.
In April this year, NASA announced a budget proposal for the “Asteroid Initiative”, which would use robotic technology to capture small asteroids that are hurtling towards Earth. After capture, the asteroid would be placed in a stable orbit around the Moon. Astronauts could then visit the rock to take samples or use it as a sunny stopover on future journeys to Mars.
The proposed launch date for the capture craft is 2017-ish.
But in the last few weeks, debate around the Initiative has hotted up. NASA announced a Grand Challenge to find out more about asteroid threats to our planet and now the space agency is being told to take a chill pill. Scientists are disgruntled because they weren’t consulted. They think the mission should be more clearly defined or it could end in disaster. On top of this, of course, there’s always the issue of cost.
If capturing an asteroid sounds like sci-fi to you, here’s a shortened version of how it would work…sorry about the music…I couldn’t resist.
I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions but I always find myself looking back on the fading year to glean a message for myself. This year I fought to re-gain perspective and remember what’s important in life. To help me tell you what I mean by that, I need look no further than NASA’s Black Marble: City Lights 2012.
If you look at the entire Black Marble image of Earth, you can see that the city lights of my home country, Australia, are insignificant compared to the rest of the world. If you then look more closely at the image of Australia (below), it is Nature’s rampaging fires over Western Australia that light up our continent, dwarfing the lights of our major cities.
No matter how important we think we are, the forces of Nature will win out in the end. It might sound strange but I find my own insignificance in the Universe surprisingly comforting.
Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC. Images taken from theSuomi NPP satellite on cloud-free nights in April and September 2012 were assembled to give this perspective of planet Earth.
1. A NASA supercomputer has modelled how winds move aerosols around the Earth. You can see dust (red) from the Sahara, the movement of carbon (green) from fires in Africa and Australia, sea salt (blue) in tornadoes and hurricanes over the Pacific and sulphates (white) from a volcanic eruption. For snapshots of these features or for more information go to this NASA webpage:
2. Physics moves forward when new findings conflict with existing theories. But at this early stage, it looks like the Higgs-like particle fits exactly with the existing theory (the Standard Model). But don’t worry, there is still hope that future data will throw up something unexpected.
3. I have never felt comfortable with the idea that some people use the “medical model” to fully account for psychological conditions. The medical model would direct a doctor to treat a psychological problem as if it is a physical affliction, like a broken leg. In other words, it all comes down to biology or the physical condition of the brain or body. Read this article for the argument against the medical model of addiction.
4. Rappers had their brains scanned in two situations: while they were freestyling and while they were reciting memorised lyrics. Comparing the two sets of brain scans helped researchers to understand the creative process.
On September 22 2012, the ozone hole reached its maximum seasonal size for the year of 21.2 million square kilometres, which is the same size as the USA, Canada and Mexico combined. This size is down from the maximum size of 29.9 million square kilometres reached in September 2006.
There isn’t much talk about the ozone hole these days but it was often in the news in the 1980s, just as “climate change” is in the news now.
Ozone in the atmosphere helps to protect the Earth from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. As we all know, increased exposure to UV causes skin cancer. In the 1980s when the ozone hole first appeared, the fear of an expanding hole in our protective shield was not good news for Australia, given our proximity to Antarctica.