Syracuse, N.Y. – A million or more years ago, a 1-ton chunk of rock escaped the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, bound for Syracuse.
The rock and Earth, both pulled in separate orbits by the sun, dodged each other for millennia.
Until just after noon Wednesday, when that meteor crashed into Earth’s atmosphere above Central New York, rattling windows, tripping earthquake detectors and scattering ancient debris as it burned at temperatures half as hot as the sun.
“It’s probably been crossing the Earth’s path countless times, until its time was up in 2020,” said Robert Lunsford, fireball report coordinator for the American Meteor Society. “The chance of a collision is infinitesimal, but if you do it several million times, it finally happens.”
Thousands of meteors hit Earth every year, but most go unnoticed because they’re too small to see and because most of the planet is ocean or uninhabited land. This week meteor explodes rarest of rare occurrences: A meteor big and brilliant enough to see during daylight, striking the sky above a densely populated region where millions of people could experience it.
“Anyone who got to see it should remember it forever, because it’s not something most people will ever get to witness,” said Zoe Learner Ponterio, manager of Cornell University’s Spacecraft Planetary Image Facility. “If you drew a 1-kilometer square in your yard, you’re only going to get a meteor to hit that space once every 50,000 years.”
Thanks to one of the cloudiest climates in the country, unfortunately, most Central New Yorkers didn’t get to witness the meteor. But it was captured on video in Western New York and Toronto, and people from Virginia to Ontario heard the deafening boom that sounded to some like gunshots or a falling tree. As one of the 181 observers who filed reports with the meteor society put it: “Scared the bejesus outta me.”
Based on those reports, the society calculated that the meteor hit the atmosphere above Lake Ontario and disintegrated just south of Rochester. NASA’s estimated trajectory shows a different path, with the meteor striking above Syracuse at 12:08 p.m. and diving southwest toward the Finger Lakes for 3 seconds before flaming out. It was just 22 miles above the ground at that point, which is a long, long way for a meteor to penetrate the atmosphere.
NASA has three meteor-tracking cameras in Ohio and western Pennsylvania that would have given a precise path, but they were off at the time.
“Meteor cameras don’t turn on until night because they’re too sensitive to the sun,” explained Bill Cooke, who tracks meteors for NASA.
This meteor was so bright that it was captured by a NASA satellite that monitors lightning. The bits of debris scattered after the meteor exploded could likely be seen on National Weather Service radar. And the sonic boom was detected in Ontario by a seismograph, the instrument that records earthquakes.
When the meteor finally got hot enough to explode, Cooke said, it released as much energy as 66 tons of dynamite.
“When it broke apart it produced a shock wave that produced the sonic boom that people heard,” he said.
The meteor was just under 3 feet across and weighed about 1,800 pounds, NASA estimated. That’s hefty as meteors go: The shooting stars seen in annual meteor showers are no bigger than small pebbles or golf balls.
Wednesday’s meteor crashed into the atmosphere at 56,000 mph.
“That’s slow for a meteor, actually,” Cooke said. “Some, like the Leonids, move at 150,000 mph.”
The relatively sluggish speed indicates that the meteor probably broke loose from the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter, about 92 million miles from Earth. That’s as far from Earth as the sun is.
As the meteor pushed through Earth’s increasingly thickening atmosphere, it reached an estimated temperature of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. For comparison, the surface of the sun is a little less than 10,000 degrees.
Cooke said the rock – technically called a meteoroid before it hits the Earth’s atmosphere and becomes a meteor — was the color of pencil lead. As it burst into a fireball, it emitted light 100 times brighter than a full moon.
The meteor was big enough that some pieces might have stayed intact and rained down on the earth, Lunsford said.
“It’s possible that some small fragments might have landed somewhere between Rochester and Syracuse,” he said.
The pieces that fall to Earth, probably no bigger than charcoal briquets, are called meteorites. They’re black and appear burnt, because that’s exactly what they are.
“They would look pitted, similar to lava,” Lunsford said. “That’s very alien to the normal rocks you would find.”
Those alien meteorites can be valuable, and a cottage industry of meteorite-seekers hunt for them. Lunsford said the pieces would likely be scattered in an area about 25 miles in diameter at the end of the meteor’s trajectory. NASA’s rough estimate shows the meteor’s path ending at the northern tip of Cayuga Lake, while the meteor society places the endpoint about 60 miles to the west.
That’s several thousand square miles of potential debris field. Learner Ponterio, whose museum at Cornell has a collection of meteorites, said meteorite hunters shouldn’t get their hopes up.
“Finding a piece on the ground is a pretty rare occurrence, and almost always when someone thinks they found one it turns out to be something else,” she said.
Meteors strike Earth every day, and big fireballs like Wednesday’s happen somewhere in the U.S. once a month, Cooke said. But this week, that somewhere was our somewhere.
“They’re not uncommon,” Cooke said. “But if you see it, that’s a rare event.”
First full moon of 2021 might be tough to see this week | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source – iNFOnews
The first full moon of 2021 and the second one of the winter season will be viewable over Kamloops and the Okanagan later this week.
The second full moon of the season, known variously as the Wolf, Snow or Hunger Moon, will look visibly full on Jan. 27 and 28, but in astronomical terms it is at its fullest on Jan. 28 at 11:16 a.m., Pacific time, when daytime might make it a bit difficult to see.
Earthsky.org says to expect to see a full-looking moon in the east at dusk or early evening. The moon should appear full to the average viewer the night before and the night after its Jan. 28 peak.
Unfortunately for us in Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton, this month’s Wolf Moon might prove difficult to view at any time during the next few days.
Environment Canada is calling for mainly cloudy skies with periods of snow or flurries from Tuesday night, Jan. 26 through Friday, Jan. 29, with a hint of sun forecast for Friday, so keep an eye out for a break in the clouds.
The next full moon is the Snow Moon, expected on Feb. 27.
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Axiom Space Announces Ax1 – First All-Private Crew To Visit ISS – Forbes
When it comes to space, even the wildest ideas have a chance of becoming reality – especially when the timing and technology align just so. Four years ago, Axiom Space announced plans to build a private space station; like for many companies with similar plans before them, the news was generally well received but with a healthy dose of “we’ll believe it when we see it.” Over the intervening years, Houston-based Axiom has continued the steady march forward and today took a major step on the planned path to create a private space station – and prove the demand for those willing to pay to reach it.
Today, Axiom Space announced the four members selected for the first private crew to visit the International Space Station. The mission, dubbed Ax1, will be lead by former NASA astronaut and Axiom vice president Michael López-Alegría as commander. American entrepreneur and non-profit activist investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, and impact investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe of Israel will round out the crew as pilot and two mission specialists respectively.
Early reception was generally positive; while some pointed out that the crew lacks gender diversity, others countered that former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is currently slated as Ax1’s backup commander. (John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tenn. is the backup mission pilot.)
“This collection of pioneers – the first space crew of its kind – represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress,” López-Alegría said. “I look forward to leading this crew and to their next meaningful and productive contributions to the human story, both on orbit and back home.”
The four-member crew, which is currently scheduled to launch to the ISS no earlier than January 2022 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, will spend eight days on the space station before returning to earth. They will participate in research and philanthropy projects during that period, similar to the work current governmental astronauts do during their longer tenures on ISS. Each man paid $55 million for their spot on the Ax1 crew and to cover costs of launch and accommodation aboard ISS.
This is in line with the sums past space tourists have paid for individual flights to the ISS. Eight private citizens traveled to space between 2001 and 2009, each paying between reportedly between $20-25 million. A successful Ax1 mission will increase the number of private citizens who have visited the ISS by 50%, and pave the way for a more comfortable ride (Crew Dragon was generally praised for being comfortable by DM-2 astronaut Bob Behnken; the Russian Soyuz that carried past space tourists is notoriously uncomfortable.)
“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group,” Axiom Space President & CEO Michael Suffredini said. “This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space – and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home.”
However, the flight and stay aboard ISS are not guaranteed: Axiom Space is still negotiating a Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) with NASA to enable private astronaut missions like Ax1 and future planned missions. The eventual goal is to send two missions per year to the ISS while Axiom Space builds out a private space station, first as a series of attached modules to the existing ISS structure, then as a free-floating station of its own.
The crew announcement marks an important first step, as it puts names and faces to the private citizens who may make history as early as January next year.
'It honestly blows my mind': U of A student part of team that found baby tyrannosaurus fossil – Edmonton Journal
A baby tyrannosaurus fossil found in central Alberta is helping the scientific community get a better understanding of how the dinosaur species developed at an early age.
University of Alberta PhD student Mark Powers was a part of the research team that found a claw from an embryo near the village of Morrin, about 270 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, a few years ago. The fossil, which dated back roughly 71.5 million years ago, was notable as it captured the dinosaur while still in early development.
The claw, about a centimetre long, was paired with another fossil, a jawbone, which was discovered in the ’80s in the United States.
Powers said researchers have a good grasp of tyrannosaurus during its teenage to adult years but there are few records of what they were like while very young. He said the smallest identifiable tyrannosaur on record is usually already three to four years old.
“We didn’t know anything about them hatching or their first year,” Powers said. “Finding these two specimens shows that they are around, and it gives us a search image to search for more babies. It helps to fill in the entire sequence of growing for a tyrannosaurus. We had a good idea of teenagers and later, but we had no idea about the babies.”
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