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A monster asteroid twice the size of The Shard is heading for Earth – Metro.co.uk

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A view of an asteroid and Planet Earth shining tiny and vulnerable in the bleak blackness of space (Image: ESA)

A gigantic asteroid is coming our way and will zoom terrifyingly close to Earth on September 14.

The monster space rock is called 2000 QW7 and is thought to be up to 650 metres wide.

This means it could be more than twice as big as The Shard in London Bridge, which is about 310 metres tall.

Happily, the object will zoom past at a distance of about five million miles from Earth at a speed of more than 23,000 kilometres per hour.

The last time it came past Earth was in 2000 and we’ll see it again in 2038.

Elon Musk recently warned that Earth has ‘no defence’ against gigantic asteroids.

A doomsday space rock could wipe out millions or even cause the extinction of humanity (Provider: Getty)

A doomsday space rock could wipe out millions or even cause the extinction of humanity (Provider: Getty)

The billionaire issued this chilling assessment of our planetary defence capabilities after his friend Joe Rogan shared a story from a British newspaper which discussed how Nasa is preparing for the arrival of a space rock named after an Egyptian ‘God of Chaos’ called Apophis.

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Musk tweeted: ‘Great name! Wouldn’t worry about this particular one, but a big rock will hit Earth eventually & we currently have no defence.’

The 340-metre wide behemoth is on a path which brings it within such a short distance of our planet’s surface that Nasa once feared it was going to hit us.

Luckily, subsequent calculations showed the object was going to miss us and pass within just 19,000 miles of our planet’s surface – a hair’s breadth in cosmic terms.

‘The Apophis close approach in 2029 will be an incredible opportunity for science,’ said Marina Brozović, a radar scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who works on radar observations of near-Earth objects (NEOs).

‘We’ll observe the asteroid with both optical and radar telescopes. With radar observations, we might be able to see surface details that are only a few meters in size.’

Asteroid approaching Earth. Computer artwork of an asteroid entering Earth's atmosphere.

The space rock which will buzz Earth is big enough to destroy a city (Photo: Getty)

If Apophis did hit a city like London, it would wipe out millions of people and create a crater roughly three miles wide, but our species would probably survive.

It’s only when space rocks are half a mile wide or larger that they start to pose an existential threat to humanity because larger objects could throw so much dust and debris into the air that sunlight is blocked so plants across the planet can no longer grow.

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In a piece of cosmic irony, Apophis will fly past on Friday, April 13, 2029.

Astronomers around the world will train their telescopes on the asteroid.

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The asteroid was discussed at Nasa’s annual Planetary Defence Conference this week, where scientists and disaster planners also simulated an asteroid apocalypse in order to practice their emergency response. 

‘Apophis is a representative of about 2,000 currently known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs),” said Paul Chodas, director of Nasa’s Centre for Near Earth Objects Studies (CNEOS).

‘By observing Apophis during its 2029 flyby, we will gain important scientific knowledge that could one day be used for planetary defence.’



Nasa’s guide to viewing Apophis

‘On April 13, 2029, a speck of light will streak across the sky getting brighter and faster. At one point it will travel more than the width of the full Moon within a minute and it will get as bright as the stars in the Little Dipper. But it won’t be a satellite or an airplane—it will be a 340-meter-wide near-Earth asteroid called 99942 Apophis that will cruise harmlessly by Earth, about 19,000 miles (31,000 km) above the surface. That’s within the distance that some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth.

‘It’s rare for an asteroid of this size to pass by the Earth so close. Although scientists have spotted small asteroids, on the order of 5-10 meters, flying by Earth at a similar distance, asteroids the size of Apophis are far fewer in number and so do not pass this close to Earth as often.

‘The asteroid, looking like a moving star-like point of light, will first become visible to the naked eye in the night sky over the southern hemisphere, flying above Earth from the east coast to the west coast of Australia. It will be mid-morning on the East Coast of the United States when Apophis is above Australia. It will then cross the Indian Ocean, and by the afternoon in the eastern U.S. it will have crossed the equator, still moving west, above Africa. At closest approach, just before 6 p.m. EDT, Apophis will be over the Atlantic Ocean – and it will move so fast that it will cross the Atlantic in just an hour. By 7 p.m. EDT, the asteroid will have crossed over the United States.’

Several views of Apophis released in 2013 (Image: Nasa)

Several views of Apophis released in 2013 (Image: Nasa)

In 2013, Nasa calculated that Apophis would not hit Earth.

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‘We have effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036,’ said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL.

‘The impact odds as they stand now are less than one in a million, which makes us comfortable saying we can effectively rule out an Earth impact in 2036. Our interest in asteroid Apophis will essentially be for its scientific interest for the foreseeable future.’

However, it said the ‘April 13, 2029, flyby of asteroid Apophis will be one for the record books’ because of how close the object will come to our planet.

A view of the asteroid as it travelled past Earth (Image: ESA)

A view of the asteroid as it travelled past Earth (Image: ESA)

Last month an asteroid big enough to kill millions zoomed past the planet just a few days after it was spotted.

If it had been on a collision course with Earth, we could have done little to protect ourselves and would have had to watch helplessly as the space rock ploughed into our homeworld.

After this flyby, the European Space Agency issued an urgent call for more ‘eyes on the sky’ to make sure we don’t get caught by ‘surprise’ again.

On July 25, astronomers watched as a 100-metre wide object called 2019 OK came within 65 000 km of our planet’s surface – which  is roughly one-fifth of the distance to the Moon.

The rock had actually been ‘previously been observed but wasn’t recognised as a near-Earth asteroid,’ ESA admitted.

Now it’s hoping to learn from this mistake and make sure every asteroid heading our way is located and identified well ahead of time.

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‘This ‘un-recognition’ of an asteroid, despite it being photographed will be used to test the software going into ESA’s upcoming asteroid-hunting telescope, the Flyeye,’ said Rüdiger Jehn, ESA’s Head of Planetary Defence.

Asteroid approaching Earth. Computer artwork of an asteroid entering Earth's atmosphere.

The asteroid will skim Earth by 4.6 million miles next week (Science Photo Library RF)

Nasa will be sure to keep a close eye on Asteroid 2006 QQ23, which is set to pass by Earth on August 10.

The massive rock, which has been estimated at 570m in diameter and bigger than New York’s Empire State Building, has been classified as a ‘near-Earth object’ (NEO).

It will make its closest approach to Earth at a distance of 4.6 million miles at some time just after 3am.

The asteroid was discovered over a decade ago in 2006, which gives it part of its designated title.

The American space agency says there’s no danger of the wayward rock hitting us, which is a very good thing. Even though the asteroid isn’t a big as some out there, it’s large enough to create widespread devastation if it impacted on Earth.

A land impact could obliterate an entire city while a plunge into the ocean could cause tsunamis that impact low-lying land.

In either scenario, the asteroid would change the climate for many years.

The path of Asteroid 2006 QV89 can be seen alongside the planets' orbit in this graphic (Image: ESA)

The path of Asteroid 2006 QV89 can be seen alongside the planets’ orbit in this graphic (Image: ESA)

Nasa estimates it has already found over 90 percent of near-Earth objects measuring one kilometre or larger – which would have catastrophic global effects in the event of a collision.

But, smaller space rocks are much harder to detect.

The space agency has been working to pinpoint NEOs in the 140-meter range, with a goal of identifying at least 90 percent of these objects.

The asteroid is larger than New York's Empire State Building (Rob Loud/Getty Images for Gotham Organization)

The asteroid is larger than New York’s Empire State Building (Rob Loud/Getty Images for Gotham Organization)

According to Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) manager Paul Chodas there are very few asteroids identified by NASA that have a chance of hitting Earth, one of which, Bennu, is the subject of frequent monitoring by the agency.

Bennu is as wide as five football fields and weighs around 79 billion kilograms, which is 1,664 times heavier than the Titanic.

It has a 1 in 2,700-chance of striking Earth between 2175 and 2199 – which is really very small, so there’s no need to worry unduly for your great, great grandchildren’s safety.

Luckily for us, Elon Musk has already joined forces with Nasa to help defend our planet against doomsday space rocks. 

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Photos Show Evidence of Life on Mars, Claims Scientist – NDTV

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As scientists scramble to determine whether there is life on Mars, a researcher from Ohio University in US believes that there is evidence of insect-like creatures on the red planet.

Courtesy photographs from various Mars rovers, Professor Emeritus William Romoser’s research found numerous examples of insect-like forms, structured similarly to bees, as well as reptile-like forms, both as fossils and living creatures.

“There has been and still is life on Mars,” Romoser said, noting that the images appear to show both fossilised and living creatures.

“There is apparent diversity among the Martian insect-like fauna which display many features similar to Terran insects that are interpreted as advanced groups – for example, the presence of wings, wing flexion, agile gliding/flight, and variously structured leg elements,” Romoser added.

Romoser said that while the Martian rovers, particularly the Curiosity Rover, have been looking for indicators of organic activity, there are a number of photos which clearly depict the insect- and reptile-like forms.

Photo Credit: Ohio University

Numerous photos show images where arthropod body segments, along with legs, antennae and wings, can be picked out from the surrounding area, and one even appears to show one of the insects in a steep dive before pulling up just before hitting the ground.

Individual images were carefully studied while varying photographic parameters such as brightness, contrast, saturation, inversion, and so on. No content was added, or removed.

Criteria used in Romoser’s research included: Dramatic departure from the surroundings, clarity of form, body symmetry, segmentation of body parts, repeating form, skeletal remains, and observation of forms in close proximity to one another.

Particular postures, evidence of motion, flight, apparent interaction as suggested by relative positions, and shiny eyes were taken to be consistent with the presence of living forms.

“Once a clear image of a given form was identified and described, it was useful in facilitating recognition of other less clear, but none-the-less valid, images of the same basic form,” Romoser said. “

An exoskeleton and jointed appendages are sufficient to establish identification as an arthropod.

Three body regions, a single pair of antennae, and six legs are traditionally sufficient to establish identification as ‘insect’ on Earth.

These characteristics should likewise be valid to identify an organism on Mars as insect-like. On these bases, arthropodan, insect-like forms can be seen in the Mars rover photos.”

These creatures loosely resemble bumble bees or carpenter bees on Earth. Other images show these “bees” appearing to shelter or nest in caves. And others show a fossilized creature that resembles a snake.

“The presence of higher metazoan organisms on Mars implies the presence of nutrient/energy sources and processes, food chains and webs, and water as elements functioning in a viable, if extreme, ecological setting sufficient to sustain life,” Romoser said.

“The evidence of life on Mars presented here provides a strong basis for many additional important biological as well as social and political questions,” he added.

The study was presented at Entomological Society of America national meeting.

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Starlink Satellites Posing Issues For Astronomers – Hackaday

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Spotting satellites from the ground is a popular pastime among amateur astronomers. Typically, the ISS and Iridium satellites have been common sightings, with their orbits and design causing them to appear sufficiently bright in the sky. More recently, SpaceX’s mass launches of Starlink satellites have been drawing attention for the wrong reasons.

A capture from the Cerro Telolo observatory, showing the many Starlink satellite tracks spoiling the exposure.

Starlink is a project run by SpaceX to provide internet via satellite, using a variety of techniques to keep latency down and bandwidth high. There’s talk of inter-satellite laser communications, autonomous obstacle avoidance, and special designs to limit the amount of space junk created. We’ve covered the technology in a comprehensive post earlier this year.

The Starlink craft have long worried astronomers, who rely on a dark and unobstructed view of the sky to carry out their work. There are now large numbers of the satellites in relatively low orbits, and the craft have a high albedo, meaning they reflect a significant amount of the sunlight that hits them. With the craft also launching in a closely-packed train formation, there have already been impacts on research operations.

There is some hope that as the craft move to higher orbits when they enter service, this problem will be reduced. SpaceX are also reportedly considering modifications to the design to reduce albedo, helping to keep the astronomy community onside. Regardless, with plans on the table to launch anywhere from 12,000 to 42,000 satellites, it’s likely this isn’t the last we’ll hear about the issue.

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This Is How Elon Musk Can Fix The Damage His Starlink Satellites Are Causing To Astronomy – Forbes

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CLARAE MARTÍNEZ-VÁZQUEZ / CTIO

In any field of business or industry, the prevailing rule has always been that if there isn’t a law against it, you are free to do it. If there are no rules protecting a resource, you are free to use or take as much of it as you want to further your own ends. Until regulatory measures are put into place, disruptors and innovators are free to regulate themselves, often to the extraordinary detriment of those who depended on those now-scarce resources.

In astronomy, the greatest resource of all is a dark, clear night sky: humanity’s window to the Universe. Traditionally, its enemies have been turbulent air, cloud cover, and artificial light pollution. But very recently, a new type of pollutant has begun to pose an existential threat to astronomy itself: mega-constellations of satellites. If Elon Musk’s Starlink project continues as it has begun, it will likely end ground-based astronomy as we know it.

Getty

Launching satellites to provide services to those of us living on the ground is an essential part of modern-day living. GPS and telecommunications satellites enable our cellular signals and support our mobile internet today. With the coming upgrade to 5G services, a new set of infrastructure will be required, and that necessarily means an upgraded set of satellites equipped to provide that service must be launched.

One of the first companies to attempt to serve this market is SpaceX, under the guidance of Elon Musk, which plans to initially deploy 12,000 satellites in a mega-constellation known as Starlink. Ultimately, the constellation hopes to extend to a total of 42,000 satellites. As of November 20, 2019, only 122 of these satellites have been deployed, and they’ve already had a detrimental impact on astronomy on a global scale.

If we hope to mitigate this, either regulators or SpaceX executives themselves will need to mandate a change.

Richard Ryer of Panoramio

From the darkest skies you can find on Earth, approximately 9,000 stars are visible to human eyes: down to a visual magnitude of +6.5, the limit of human vision. Yet the first 122 satellites launched by Starlink are not only brighter than the majority of these stars, they move quickly throughout the sky, leaving trails that pollute astronomers’ data.

If these satellites were either faint, few in number, or slowly moving, this would be only a mild problem. If you’re only observing a narrow region of the sky, you’d simply reject any exposure frames (or even just the pixels from them) where the offending objects streak across the sky. But with large numbers of bright, rapidly moving satellites, particularly if you’re searching for changes from frame-to-frame (like many current and future observatories are designed to do), you have to throw out any exposure frame with these artifacts in them.

CLIFF JOHNSON / CTIO / DECam

On November 18, 2019, a series of 19 of these Starlink satellites passed over the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory’s site in Chile, lasting for more than 5 minutes and heavily affecting the wide-field DECam instrument, which images a field containing 3 square degrees at an outstanding 0.263 arcsecond-per-pixel resolution.

Even though this only represents 0.3% of the total number of proposed Starlink satellites that SpaceX wants to launch, the consequences are clear: wide-field astronomy designed to look for faint objects — prime goals of observatories like Pan-STARRS, LSST, and any observing program geared towards finding potentially Earth-hazardous objects — is going to be significantly hindered. Averaging over frames is not a desired option, because it erases astronomers’ ability to study the natural variability of object, another important science goal. Because Starlink satellites autonomously change their orbits and are extremely radio-loud, ground-based observations cannot be scheduled so as to avoid them.

NASA illustration courtesy Orbital Debris Program Office

In addition, these satellites are not in traditional low-Earth orbits, which will decay and fall back to Earth on timescales of months, years, or (at most) decades, these satellites are at elevations of over 1,000 km, where orbital decay will take millennia. Already, back in September, the ESA’s Aeolus satellite (used for Earth observation) had to make an emergency maneuver to avoid colliding with a SpaceX Starlink satellite, despite the fact that it was SpaceX’s responsibility to move.

Although SpaceX and Musk have issued statements claiming that:

all of these statements are not yet true as of November 20, 2019.

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Previous constellations of satellites, such as the extremely successful Iridium constellation, proceeded in clearly defined and predictable orbits, were few in number (66 total), and only flared brightly when their orientation reflected sunlight in a particular manner. The Starlink satellites, along with similar planned constellations such as Kuiper Systems and OneWeb, pose a new and unique hurdle for ground-based astronomy.

According to Cees Bassa from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, up to 140 such satellites will be visible at any one time from every observatory on Earth. However, if the companies behind these new constellations are willing to take just a few simple steps, all of these hurdles can be overcome. Here’s what a responsible steward of the night sky ought to do, and how SpaceX can undo the damage they’re in the process of inflicting on astronomy.

NASA/ESA/Bill Moede and Jesse Carpenter

1.) De-orbit the current batch of Starlink satellites, and place a moratorium on the launch of new ones until the proper modifications have been made. Unlike most of the GPS and communications satellites we have today, the current Starlink satellites are large, reflective, and already causing some astronomers to throw out significant portions of their data. Currently at an altitude of 280 km, where they’re visible to the naked eye, they can now easily and safely be de-orbited.

But once they’re raised to their operational altitude of 550 km, they become a much more permanent problem. In addition, public awareness will drop, but they will remain visible to all binoculars and telescopes: the astronomer’s most essential tools. Every moment that these satellites are up there is the astronomical equivalent of callously rollin’ coal in the face of every scientist, researcher, and especially the undergraduate and graduate students who rely on hard-to-obtain telescope time in order to start their careers.

SpaceX / Space.com

2.) Either redesign or coat the satellites to significantly reduce their reflectivity. Part of the problem with these new satellites is that they’re both large and highly reflective. But these problems are unnecessary: they’re choices. Choosing a different design, where the satellites can be oriented to minimize the impact on astronomy, would ameliorate the problem. Even more cost-effectively, simply coating the satellites with a very dark, low-albedo outer layer would go a long way to reducing the astronomically polluting effects of this constellation.

Albedo reduction, it is very clear from the current Starlink satellites, was not even considered as part of the design. By incorporating some common sense steps to reduce it — and I know plenty of astronomers willing to help with recommendations — the apparent brightness of these satellites can be reduced by a factor of approximately ~100.

IAU/ Victoria Girgis/ Lowell Observatory

3.) Provide real-time trajectory plans, predictions, and adjustment information for each satellite to observatories worldwide. One of the worst things about these satellites is that they come without predictable trajectories. If their paths were known, astronomers could schedule observations that absolutely minimized their impact on the science, making good use of every moment of good seeing.

It should be not only easy, but mandatory, to set up a global network that tracked the predicted paths of each satellite in real-time, updated continuously to account for any maneuvers or course-corrections that were taken. By providing this information to astronomers, the polluted areas can be avoided at any moment in time, while still taking quality observations of as much of the sky as possible.

SpaceX via Twitter

4.) Provide funding to assist astronomers in the development of hardware and software-driven solutions to subtracting out as much of the satellite pollution as possible. Even if all of these steps are taken, it will still be an arduous and expensive task for astronomers to account for the contamination that remains in their data. It’s unreasonable to expect that Starlink or any satellite-based company will have no impact on astronomy at all, but it’s extremely reasonable to demand that they fund the mitigation efforts astronomers will need to take.

This is how literally every other industry in the world works: if you plunder some aspect of the natural environment, you must make restitution for the damage that you caused. The astronomers that I know don’t care that you have satellites up there; they care that they’re still able to do their work despite them. It really isn’t too much to ask.

Starlink (simulation)

Right now, the Outer Space Treaty only prohibits the militarized use of space; all peaceful purposes are allowed. There are no consequences for damages done to the night sky and no regulations on pollution or contamination. So long as you register your satellite(s) and don’t cause an in-orbit or on-Earth collision, there is no legal liability to what you do.

The astronomical community’s only options are either to attempt to get laws passed protecting the night sky, or to hope that the industry will self-regulate. If companies like SpaceX, Kuiper Systems and OneWeb take the altruistic route of addressing these issues in advance of causing widespread problems, they will truly be worthy captains of this burgeoning industry. But it’s very scary to be entering an era where the future of one of humanity’s oldest sciences depends on the ethical compasses of a few profit-driven companies. Our understanding of the Universe, from nearby hazardous objects to the distant recesses of space, is no longer in the hands of astronomers.

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