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Look Up and Watch a 1.1-km Asteroid Fly Past Earth Today – Here's How – SciTechDaily

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This week’s apparition of asteroid 1994 PC1 offers observers a chance to see a space rock moving in real time.

In a slow moving universe, asteroids give us a rare chance to see things moving in real time. We have such a chance coming right up on the evening of Tuesday, January 18th, when 1.1-kilometer asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1 passes 1.23 million miles (1.98 million kilometers) from the Earth. This is about five times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, and just a shade over the distance to the anti-sunward Earth-Sun Lagrange 2 point, soon to be the home of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Fortunately, both the Earth and said space telescope are safe from the asteroid on this pass, and will remain so for centuries in to the foreseeable future. The asteroid was discovered on the night of August 9th, 1994 by astronomer Robert McNaught observing from the Siding Spring Observatory. The Apollo asteroid is an Earth-crosser, with a perihelion interior to our own at 0.9 Astronomical Units (AU) from the Sun, and an aphelion out in the asteroid belt at 1.8 AU, with an orbital period of 572 days. It’s orbital inclination of 33.5 degrees relative to the ecliptic makes it pass far from the Earth on most years.

Asteroid 1994 PC1 Orbit

The orbit of asteroid 1994 PC1. Credit: NASA/JPL

Fun fact: looking back through sky plates, 1994 PC1 actually turns up in images all the way back to 1974.

1994 PC1 is a S-class stony-type asteroid, and is only slightly larger than another well-known NEO asteroid 101955 Bennu the target of <span aria-describedby="tt" class="glossaryLink" data-cmtooltip="

NASA
Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. It’s vision is "To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity."

“>NASA’s Osiris-Rex sample return mission, which returns to Earth with its precious cargo late next year.

This week’s pass is the closest for the asteroid since January 17, 1933 (pre-discovery) at 0.00752 AU, and the closest for the next two centuries, although the pass on January 18, 2105 is nearly as close, at 0.01556 AU.

Asteroid 1994 PC1 Earth Flyby

A closeup of Tueday’s flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL

Hunting the Asteroid

This week’s close approach gives observers a chance to see the asteroid for themselves. At its closest on the night of January 18th at 21:51 Universal Time (UT), 1994 PC1 will be straddling on the Cetus/Pisces border and moving at a blistering 2 degrees an hour (spanning a section of sky four times the size of tonight’s Full Moon, per hour) or 2 arc minutes a minute. That’s fast enough to see the motion of the speedy asteroid versus the starry background after watching it at the eyepiece for just a minute or two. At it’s brightest, 1994 PC1 should flirt with magnitude +9 or so, making it easily visible with a small telescope or perhaps, binoculars.

I remember the thrill of seeing asteroid 4179 Toutatis on its close pass in 2004. That passage was very similar to this week’s, watching as the space rock silently crept across the starry background.

The good news is, you could have started hunting for 1994 PC1 last night: the asteroid is still a respectable +12th magnitude plus on either evening before or after closest approach, January 17th or January 19th. Also, unlike closer passes, parallax versus observer location won’t play too much of a factor in the asteroid’s true position in the sky.

To catch it, you’ll need a telescope capable of precisely pointing at coordinates in right ascension and declination. You can get these ephemerides for your time and location by inputting ‘1994 PC1’ at NASA/JPL Horizons site.

Asteroid 1994 PC1 January 17

The path of the asteroid for the last 12 hours of January 17th. Credit: Starry Night

The night of Monday, January 17th finds asteroid 1994 PC1 low to the south at dusk on the border of the southern hemisphere constellations of Fornax and Eridanus. Tough, though not an impossible target for North American observers.

Asteroid 1994 PC1 January 18

The 24 hour path of asteroid 1994 PC1 for January 18th, in one hour increments. Credit: Starry Night.

The key night of Tuesday, January 18th sees the asteroid making its closest pass by Earth for this century. Standing on the surface of the asteroid Tuesday night, you’d see the Earth as a 22’ half-full disk, slightly smaller than a Full Moon. Though the precise time of closest approach favors Africa and European longitudes, North America also gets a good look at dusk. Another good approach to tracking the asteroid is to know when it’s going to pass near a bright star, stake out the position, and watch at the appropriate time. Once such opportunity occurs in the hours around 21:05 UT Tuesday night, when 1994 PC1 passes 43’ from the +3.8 magnitude star Alrescha (Alpha Piscium).

Asteroid 1994 PC1 Near Alrescha

A close up of the pass near Alrescha (Alpha Piscium) from 21:02 to 21:29 UT. Credit: Starry Night

Wednesday night January 19th sees the asteroid much farther north in the constellation Andromeda. Though now almost 1.7 million miles distant, Wednesday also has the advantage of offering a slim window for viewing after twilight ends, and before the waning gibbous Moon rises.

Asteroid 1994 PC1 January 19

The celestial path of asteroid 1994 PC1 through Wednesday, January 19th. Credit: Starry Night

Clouded out? Astronomer Gianluca Masi and the Virtual Telescope Project has you covered, with a live webcast following 1994 PC1 starting at 20:00 UT on the 18th.

Luckily, asteroid 1994 PC1 won’t offer us the same doomday scenario as the recent comedy Look Up… simply a good show. Good luck and clear skies on your quest to spot asteroid 1994 PC1.

Originally published on Universe Today.

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Toward customizable timber, grown in a lab – EurekAlert

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image: In an effort to provide an environmentally friendly and low-waste alternative, researchers at MIT have pioneered a tunable technique to generate wood-like plant material in a lab.
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Credit: Image courtesy of Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, Ashley Beckwith, et al

Each year, the world loses about 10 million hectares of forest — an area about the size of Iceland — because of deforestation. At that rate, some scientists predict the world’s forests could disappear in 100 to 200 years.

In an effort to provide an environmentally friendly and low-waste alternative, researchers at MIT have pioneered a tunable technique to generate wood-like plant material in a lab, which could enable someone to “grow” a wooden product like a table without needing to cut down trees, process lumber, etc.

These researchers have now demonstrated that, by adjusting certain chemicals used during the growth process, they can precisely control the physical and mechanical properties of the resulting plant material, such as its stiffness and density.

They also show that, using 3D bioprinting techniques, they can grow plant material in shapes, sizes, and forms that are not found in nature and that can’t be easily produced using traditional agricultural methods.

“The idea is that you can grow these plant materials in exactly the shape that you need, so you don’t need to do any subtractive manufacturing after the fact, which reduces the amount of energy and waste. There is a lot of potential to expand this and grow three-dimensional structures,” says lead author Ashley Beckwith, a recent PhD graduate.

Though still in its early days, this research demonstrates that lab-grown plant materials can be tuned to have specific characteristics, which could someday enable researchers to grow wood products with the exact features needed for a particular application, like high strength to support the walls of a house or certain thermal properties to more efficiently heat a room, explains senior author Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories.

Joining Beckwith and Velásquez-García on the paper is Jeffrey Borenstein, a biomedical engineer and group leader at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. The research is published today in Materials Today.

Planting cells

To begin the process of growing plant material in the lab, the researchers first isolate cells from the leaves of young Zinnia elegans plants. The cells are cultured in liquid medium for two days, then transferred to a gel-based medium, which contains nutrients and two different hormones.

Adjusting the hormone levels at this stage in the process enables researchers to tune the physical and mechanical properties of the plant cells that grow in that nutrient-rich broth.

“In the human body, you have hormones that determine how your cells develop and how certain traits emerge. In the same way, by changing the hormone concentrations in the nutrient broth, the plant cells respond differently. Just by manipulating these tiny chemical quantities, we can elicit pretty dramatic changes in terms of the physical outcomes,” Beckwith says.

In a way, these growing plant cells behave almost like stem cells — researchers can give them cues to tell them what to become, Velásquez-García adds.

They use a 3D printer to extrude the cell culture gel solution into a specific structure in a petri dish, and let it incubate in the dark for three months. Even with this incubation period, the researchers’ process is about two orders of magnitude faster than the time it takes for a tree to grow to maturity, Velásquez-García says.

Following incubation, the resulting cell-based material is dehydrated, and then the researchers evaluate its properties.

Wood-like characteristics

They found that lower hormone levels yielded plant materials with more rounded, open cells that have lower density, while higher hormone levels led to the growth of plant materials with smaller, denser cell structures. Higher hormone levels also yielded plant material that was stiffer; the researchers were able to grow plant material with a storage modulus (stiffness) similar to that of some natural woods.

Another goal of this work is to study what is known as lignification in these lab-grown plant materials. Lignin is a polymer that is deposited in the cell walls of plants which makes them rigid and woody. They found that higher hormone levels in the growth medium causes more lignification, which would lead to plant material with more wood-like properties.

The researchers also demonstrated that, using a 3D bioprinting process, the plant material can be grown in a custom shape and size. Rather than using a mold, the process involves the use of a customizable computer-aided design file that is fed to a 3D bioprinter, which deposits the cell gel culture into a specific shape. For instance, they were able to grow plant material in the shape of a tiny evergreen tree.

Research of this kind is relatively new, Borenstein says.

“This work demonstrates the power that a technology at the interface between engineering and biology can bring to bear on an environmental challenge, leveraging advances originally developed for health care applications,” he adds.

The researchers also show that the cell cultures can survive and continue to grow for months after printing, and that using a thicker gel to produce thicker plant material structures does not impact the survival rate of the lab-grown cells.

“Amenable to customization”

“I think the real opportunity here is to be optimal with what you use and how you use it. If you want to create an object that is going to serve some purpose, there are mechanical expectations to consider. This process is really amenable to customization,” Velásquez-García says.

Now that they have demonstrated the effective tunability of this technique, the researchers want to continue experimenting so they can better understand and control cellular development. They also want to explore how other chemical and genetic factors can direct the growth of the cells.

They hope to evaluate how their method could be transferred to a new species. Zinnia plants don’t produce wood, but if this method were used to make a commercially important tree species, like pine, the process would need to be tailored to that species, Velásquez-García says.  

Ultimately, he is hopeful this work can help to motivate other groups to dive into this area of research to help reduce deforestation.

“Trees and forests are an amazing tool for helping us manage climate change, so being as strategic as we can with these resources will be a societal necessity going forward,” Beckwith adds.

This research is funded, in part, by the Draper Scholars Program.

###

Written by Adam Zewe, MIT News Office

Additional background

Paper: “Physical, mechanical, and microstructural characterization of novel, 3D-printable, tunable, lab-grown plant materials generated from Zinnia elegans cell cultures”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369702122000451


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Crumbling comet could create meteor shower May 30 – Northern Daily News

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A crumbling comet could create a meteor shower on May 30.

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The ‘tau Herculids’ meteor display might be one of the most dramatic observed in over two decades, according to Space.com.

Meteor showers occur when dust or particles from asteroids or comets enter Earth’s atmosphere at a very high speed, the U.K. Sun explained.

This one is expected to be the product of a comet named 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, also known as SW3.

SW3 was first discovered in 1930 but did not reappear again until the 1970s, Republic World reported.

In 1995, astronomers noticed that the comet’s nucleus split into four smaller chunks, according to CNET.

It has continued to disintegrate more in the ensuing years.

The display is expected to be very visible in the Northern Hemisphere as it is occurring on a Moon-less night.

A consensus of experts predicts that the shower will be visible starting from 1 a.m. EST on May 31.

It is suggested viewers will want to be outside at least an hour before this so your eyes have a chance to adjust to the dark.

“The southwestern USA and Mexico are favored locations as the radiant, the area of the sky where these meteors come from, will be located highest in a dark sky,” Robert Lunsford wrote for AMS.

“The outburst may be seen from southeastern Canada and the remainder of the (eastern) USA, but at a lower altitude.”

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Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown – Phys.org

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Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands at White Sands Missile Range’s Space Harbor, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in New Mexico. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP

Boeing’s crew taxi returned to Earth from the International Space Station on Wednesday, completing a repeat test flight before NASA astronauts climb aboard.

It was a quick trip back: The Starliner capsule parachuted into the New Mexico desert just four hours after leaving the orbiting lab, with airbags attached to cushion the landing. Only a mannequin was buckled in.

Aside from thruster failures and cooling system snags, Starliner appeared to clinch its high-stakes shakedown cruise, 2 1/2 years after its botched first try. Flight controllers in Houston applauded and cheered the bull’s-eye touchdown.

“It’s great to have this incredible test flight behind us,” said Steve Stich, director of NASA’s commercial crew program. He described the demo as “extremely successful,” with all objectives met.

Added Boeing’s Mark Nappi, a : “On a scale of one to 10, I think I’d give it a 15.”

Based on these early results, NASA astronauts will strap in next for a trip to the , perhaps by year’s end. The has long wanted two competing U.S. companies ferrying astronauts, for added insurance as it drastically reduced its reliance on Russia for rides to and from the space station.

Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands at White Sands Missile Range’s Space Harbor, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in New Mexico. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already the established leader, launching astronauts since 2020 and even tourists. Its crew capsules splash down off the Florida coast, Boeing’s Starliner returns to the Army’s expansive and desolate White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Boeing scrapped its first attempt to reach the space station in 2019, after software errors left the capsule in the wrong orbit and nearly doomed it. The company fixed the flaws and tried again last summer, but corroded valves halted the countdown. Following more repairs, Starliner finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral last Thursday and docked to the space station Friday.

Station astronauts tested Starliner’s communication and computer systems during its five days at the space station. They also unloaded hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of groceries and other supplies that flew up in the Boeing capsule, then filled it with empty air tanks and other discarded gear.

  • Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown
    In this infrared image from video made available by NASA, the Boeing Starliner capsule uses parachutes as it descends to land at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Credit: NASA via AP
  • Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown
    In this image from video made available by NASA, the Boeing Starliner capsule, upper center, leaves the International Space Station on Wedndesday, May 25, 2022. At bottom foreground is a SpaceX Dragon capsule, still docked to the station. Credit: NASA via AP

A folded U.S. flag sent up by Boeing stayed behind, to be retrieved by the first Starliner crew.

“We’re a little sad to see her go,” station astronaut Bob Hines radioed as the capsule flew away.

Along for the ride was Starliner’s test dummy—Rosie the Rocketeer, a takeoff on World War II’s Rosie the Riveter.

The repairs and do-over cost Boeing nearly $600 million.


Explore further

Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over


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