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NASA predicted asteroid impact in Ontario, Canada

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A fireball lit up the skies over Ontario on November 19, 2022. NASA predicted the asteroid impact with its Scout impact hazard assessment program. Image via NASA/ Robert Weryk.

NASA originally published this article on November 22, 2022.

NASA predicted asteroid impact

2022 WJ1 was a tiny asteroid on a collision course with Earth. But astronomers saw it coming, and NASA’s Scout impact hazard assessment system calculated where it would hit.

In the early hours of Saturday, November 19, 2022, the skies over southern Ontario, Canada, lit up as a tiny asteroid harmlessly streaked across the sky high in Earth’s atmosphere, broke up, and likely scattered small meteorites over the southern coastline of Lake Ontario. The fireball wasn’t a surprise. Roughly 1 meter (3 feet) wide, NASA detected the asteroid 3 ½ hours before impact, making this event the sixth time in history a small asteroid has been tracked in space before impacting Earth’s atmosphere.

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One of NASA’s tasks is to detect and track the larger near-Earth objects that could survive passage through Earth’s atmosphere and cause damage on the ground, but those objects can also be detected much further in advance than small ones like the asteroid that disintegrated over southern Ontario. Such small asteroids are not a hazard to Earth, but they can be a useful test for NASA’s planetary defense capabilities for discovery, tracking, orbit determination, and impact prediction.

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Planetary defense

Kelly Fast, Near-Earth Object Observations program manager for the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said:

The planetary defense community really demonstrated their skill and readiness with their response to this short-warning event. Such harmless impacts become spontaneous real-world exercises and give us confidence that NASA’s planetary defense systems are capable of informing the response to the potential for a serious impact by a larger object.

The NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona, discovered the asteroid on the evening of November 18, during routine search operations for near-Earth objects. The observations were quickly reported to the Minor Planet Center – the internationally recognized clearinghouse for the position measurements of small celestial bodies – and the data was then automatically posted to the Near-Earth Object Confirmation Page.

NASA’s Scout impact hazard assessment system, which is maintained by the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, automatically fetched the new data from that page and began calculating the object’s possible trajectory and chances of impact. CNEOS calculates every known near-Earth asteroid orbit to provide assessments of potential impact hazards in support of NASA’s PDCO.

Visit the fully interactive Eyes on Asteroids site.

Collaboration was key

Seven minutes after the asteroid was posted on the confirmation page, Scout had determined it had a 25% probability of hitting Earth’s atmosphere, with possible impact locations stretching from the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of North America to Mexico. More observations were then provided by the astronomical community, including amateur astronomers in Kansas, to better refine the asteroid’s trajectory and possible impact location.

Shantanu Naidu, navigation engineer and Scout operator at JPL, said:

Small objects such as this one can only be detected when they are very close to Earth, so if they are headed for an impact, time is of the essence to collect as many observations as possible. This object was discovered early enough that the planetary defense community could provide more observations, which Scout then used to confirm the impact and predict where and when the asteroid was going to hit.

As Catalina continued to track the asteroid over the next few hours, Scout used this new data to continually update the asteroid’s trajectory and the system’s assessment of the chance of impact, posting those results on the hazard-assessment system’s webpage.

Community effort helped confirm the asteroid impact

Many astronomers check the Scout webpage throughout the night to determine the most important asteroids to track. A group of amateur astronomers at Farpoint Observatory in Eskridge, Kansas, tracked the asteroid for more than an hour, providing critical additional data that enabled Scout to confirm a 100% impact probability and determine the expected location of atmospheric entry as being over southern Ontario at 3:27 a.m. EST (12:27 a.m. PST) November 19. With more than two hours remaining before impact, there was time to alert scientists in southwestern Ontario of the bright fireball that would occur.

A total of 46 observations of the asteroid’s position were ultimately collected, the final one being made only 32 minutes before impact by the University of Hawaii 88-inch (2.2-meter) telescope on Mauna Kea.

As predicted, at 3:27 a.m. EST (12:27 a.m. PST), the asteroid streaked through Earth’s atmosphere at a shallow angle and broke up, likely producing a shower of small meteorites and leaving no reported damage on the surface. After this harmless disintegration, the Minor Planet Center designated the asteroid 2022 WJ1 to acknowledge its discovery while still in space.

Many sightings

Dozens of sightings were reported to the American Meteor Society, and scientists who were alerted to the Scout prediction were able to photograph the asteroid’s atmospheric entry. Videos of the fireball collected by the public were also posted online. NASA’s Meteorite Falls website also reported weather radar detections of fragments of the fireball falling as meteorites at the predicted time over Lake Ontario. Small meteorites might be found east of the town of Grimsby while larger meteorites might be nearer the town of McNab.

The first asteroid to be discovered and tracked well before hitting Earth was 2008 TC3, which entered the atmosphere over Sudan and broke up in October 2008. That 13-foot-wide (4-meter-sized) asteroid scattered hundreds of small meteorites over the Nubian Desert. Earlier this year, asteroid 2022 EB5 entered the atmosphere over the Norwegian Sea after Scout accurately predicted its location, becoming the fifth object to be detected before impact. As surveys become more sophisticated and sensitive, more of these harmless objects are being detected before entering the atmosphere, providing real exercises for NASA’s planetary defense program.

Bottom line: NASA predicted the asteroid impact in Ontario, Canada, with its Scout impact hazard assessment system. The goal of Scout is to track impact hazards to Earth.

Read more: Asteroid hit Canada, may have dropped meteorites

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NASA's Artemis 1, Over 400,000 Kms From Earth, Sets A New Record – NDTV

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New Delhi:

NASA’s Artemis 1 Orion has set a new record for the spacecraft designed to carry humans to deep space by travelling 419,378 kilometres from Earth. The record was previously set during the Apollo 13 mission at 248,655 miles from our home planet.

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For the next six days, Orion will remain in lunar orbit. It will then put the spacecraft on a trajectory back to Earth, followed by a Sunday, December 11, splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, a press release by NASA said.

NASA, in a build-up to the landmark event, said, “Today, NASA Orion Spacecraft will break the record for farthest distance of a spacecraft designed to carry humans to deep space and safely return them to Earth. This record is currently held by Apollo 13.” The text was attached to a video featuring the Apollo astronauts and flight directors who spoke about the future of Artemis. Take a look: 

NASA is expected to use innovative measures to learn more about the Moon’s South Pole. The agency will also try to understand the lunar surface with the help of the Gateway Space Station in orbit, the press note added.  

The spacecraft has a sensor named Commander Moonikin Campos attached to it. It will help provide information on what crew members may experience in flight. The Campos is named after Arturo Campos, the key player in bringing Apollo 13 safely back to Earth. 

Answering questions at a discussion conducted by NASA on Twitter,  Jim Geffre, Orion’s spacecraft integration manager, said,  “Artemis 1 was designed to stress the systems of Orion and we settled on the distant retrograde orbit as a really good way to do that.”
 

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YouTuber Mark Rober drops eggs from space to land in Victor Valley

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Former NASA engineer Mark Rober, the YouTuber best known for his Backyard Squirrel Maze and Exploding Glitter Bomb videos, recently dropped a couple of eggs from space that fell in the Victor Valley.

The 42-year-old Rober and his team of scientists dropped both eggs, with the intention of them not breaking, from a height of nearly 19 miles and with the help of a high-altitude balloon provided by Night Crew Labs.

The launch occurred earlier this year, but the “Egg Drop From Space” video was uploaded to YouTube on Black Friday.

It includes shots of the team driving on Bear Valley Road toward Deadman’s Point in Apple Valley. Also shown are Bell Mountain, Interstate 15 and an area west of I-15 and near the Dale Evans Parkway offramp.

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A shot from the weather balloon in space showed the Victor Valley, including landmarks such as Spring Valley Lake and the Mojave River.

The egg-drop project

When Rober started conceptualizing his egg drop project nearly three years ago, he knew that a successful record drop would come from his experience of landing scientific gear on other planets when he worked for NASA.

A graduate of USC, Rober worked at NASA for nine years, seven of them on the Mars Curiosity project. He also spent five years at Apple working on advanced virtual reality technology for autonomous vehicles before quitting to become a full-time YouTuber.

Rober confessed that before he embarked on the egg drop project, he didn’t know that it would be the most “physically, financially and mentally draining video” he would ever attempt.

The plan

Rober’s team included rocket and propulsion specialist Joe Barnard, of BPS Systems, which helped with the rocket’s guidance system and design.

Rober’s original plan was to affix an egg onto a rocket, which would be lifted by a large weather balloon. Once in space, the rocket would be released and would guide the rocket to an area over the drop target.

At 300 feet above the ground, the egg would be released and free-fall toward a specially designed mattress.

After determining the terminal velocity of the egg to be 74 mph, he successfully tested the speed inside his Crunch Lab located near San Francisco

Rober and his team then headed to the Northern California town of Gridley for three low-altitude tests, which all failed.

‘A fatal flaw’

Rober sought the guidance of NASA engineer Adam Steltzner, who works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on several flight projects including Galileo, Cassini, Mars Pathfinder and the Mars Exploration Rovers.

After listening to Rober and details about his project, Steltzner found a “fatal flaw” in the project and asked him, “How did you not get busted by the FAA?”

Rober realized that his project was akin to creating a precision-guided missile, which is frowned upon by the federal government.

Heading to the High Desert

After going back to the drawing board, Rober’s team decided to conduct a rocket launch with a general egg drop target area in the High Desert.

The launch would use a weather balloon, which would lift a larger and heavier rocket to guarantee the egg would reach supersonic speed on its way down.

The helium-filled balloon would release the rocket, which would begin separating.

A portion of the rocket, carrying the egg, would slow before losing its nose cone and deploying a parachute and cushioned airbags, which were borrowed from the Spirit and Opportunity landing projects.

Just before liftoff, Rober discovered that the newly designed, the two-piece rocket might unexpectedly separate at Mach 2.

Rober and his team fixed the rocket’s connection point and ran vacuum and heat tests on the egg chamber.

They also built redundancy into the system, which included creating a custom beach ball, filled with packing materials to protect a second egg.

The entire payload, suspended from the balloon, would detach and simply fall to earth over the target.

The launch

Rober’s friend, JPL systems engineer Allen Chen, traveled to the Victor Valley for Rober’s second launch.

In 2012, Chen uttered the famous words, “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on Mars,” after the Curiosity Rover had survived the harrowing plunge and landed on the red planet.

Somewhere near Apple Valley, the lift-off of Rober’s balloon, rocket, beach ball and eggs was successful.

As the team drove and arrived at the projected landing site, they discovered that the balloon had surpassed the 100,000-foot mark.

As the group celebrated, moments later, they discovered that the balloon had suddenly lost altitude and came crashing down to earth.

As the balloon ascended, the cord that held the rocket, beach ball and eggs had wound so tight that it pulled down on the balloon, causing it to come hurtling down at 150 mph, “Which is way faster than the eggs could survive,” Rober explained.

As the team looked for the wreckage, they spotted the parachute, the rocket and the beach ball.

Rober was excited that at 20,000 feet, the payload had autonomously detached itself from the balloon.

Rober held back his excitement as he opened the rocket to inspect the egg.

As a smiling Rober pulled an uncracked egg from the rocket and held it high, Chen joyously said, “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on earth.”

That was repeated when Rober ripped open the beach ball and pulled out a second uncracked egg that he kissed.

“Two for two, baby!” shouted Rober as he high-fived Chen. “Two for two!”

Rober ended the video by saying that the egg drop from space project reminded him that in life things rarely unfold how we think they will.

“But by learning from your failures, coupled with a bit of tenacity, us humans can accomplish a feat as incredible as the world’s smartest Martian robot or as ridiculous as the world’s tallest egg drop,” Rober said.

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In a B.C. first, UVic mini-satellite launched into space after four years of work

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A University of Victoria satellite the size of a two-litre milk carton, designed to calibrate light, was fired into space Saturday, after four years of work by dozens of students, faculty and researchers.

ORCASat started its journey to space at 11:20 a.m. Saturday as part of NASA’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Early this morning, about 4 a.m., the satellite is scheduled to be taken on board the International Space Station where it will wait for a few weeks before being fired into space to orbit the Earth for as long as it can survive.

Saturday’s successful launch was extra-sweet because a planned Tuesday launch was postponed due to poor weather. Watchers from UVic returned home after the delayed launch.

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A nervous Alex Doknjas, ORCASat project manager, went into his family’s living room at 10:30 a.m. Saturday where he waited with loved ones and about 20 others on a video chat, including a UVic group, to watch the event together. Cheers and claps erupted when the rocket launched on time. “It’s great. It’s fantastic,” he said.

There was a little wind picking up on the launch site shortly before liftoff was scheduled and Doknjas said he was worried it was about to get scrubbed again, but that didn’t happen.

The excitement has been years in the making thanks to about 140 people who have been part of a team at the University of Victoria Centre for Aerospace Research.

Full-time researchers, co-op and volunteer students from UVic Satellite Design, UBC Orbit, and Simon Fraser University Satellite Design have all contributed.

The ORCASat (for Optical Reference Calibration Satellite) measures 10 centimetres by 10 centimetres by 23 centimetres and weighs 2.5 kilograms.

Doknjas said as far as he knows this is the first “Cubesat” designed and built in this province. “That’s a pretty big milestone.”

The estimated date to launch ORCASat is between Dec. 29 and the first week in January.

ORCASat will be doing a 400-kilometre orbit around Earth and travelling at 7.5 kilometres a second. “It’s pretty fast.”

It is not known exactly how long it will last but it could be six to eight months, up to 18 months, Doknjas said. Factors such as sun flares, solar radiation, pressure and more can all impact the life of the satellite.

ORCASat is basically an artificial star, a reference light source in orbit that can be viewed by telescopes on Earth.

Astronomers can measure how bright ORCASat appears, just as they would an astronomical object.

At the same time, the satellite, using two laser light sources, will measure the amount of light that an astronomical object is emitting.

This will allow ground-based telescopes to be calibrated to measure the absolute brightness of an astronomical object, not how they appear after passing through the atmosphere and the optics of a telescope.

This is the first satellite ever to carry a light source capable of performing this experiment to this level of accuracy.

It is a proof-of-concept technology which in the future could be developed to be applicable in such areas as climate change, Earth observation and methane gas research, Doknjas said.

parrais@timescolonist.com

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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