Space Terror Propaganda

Title: Nasa Warns Solar Flares From 'Huge Space Storm' Will Cause Devastation
June 14, 2010

Abstract: National power grids could overheat and air travel severely disrupted while electronic items, navigation devices and major satellites could stop working after the Sun reaches its maximum power in a few years.

Senior space agency scientists believe the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes “from a deep slumber” sometime around 2013, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

In a new warning, Nasa said the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.

Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.

Due to humans’ heavy reliance on electronic devices, which are sensitive to magnetic energy, the storm could leave a multi-billion pound damage bill and “potentially devastating” problems for governments.
“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa's Heliophysics division, said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

“It will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigations, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic. It will cause major problems for the world.

“Large areas will be without electricity power and to repair that damage will be hard as that takes time.”

Dr Fisher added: “Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the earth that is rapid and like a lightning bolt. That is the solar affect.”

A “space weather” conference in Washington DC last week, attended by Nasa scientists, policy-makers, researchers and government officials, was told of similar warnings.

While scientists have previously told of the dangers of the storm, Dr Fisher’s comments are the most comprehensive warnings from Nasa to date.

Dr Fisher, 69, said the storm, which will cause the Sun to reach temperatures of more than 10,000 F (5500C), occurred only a few times over a person’s life.

Every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sun spots – or flares – hits a maximum level every 11 years.

Dr Fisher, a Nasa scientist for 20 years, said these two events would combine in 2013 to produce huge levels of radiation.

He said large swathes of the world could face being without power for several months, although he admitted that was unlikely.

A more likely scenario was that large areas, including northern Europe and Britain which have “fragile” power grids, would be without power and access to electronic devices for hours, possibly even days.

He said preparations were similar to those in a hurricane season, where authorities knew a problem was imminent but did not know how serious it would be.

“I think the issue is now that modern society is so dependant on electronics, mobile phones and satellites, much more so than the last time this occurred,” he said.

“There is a severe economic impact from this. We take it very seriously. The economic impact could be like a large, major hurricane or storm.”

The National Academy of Sciences warned two years ago that power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications could “all be knocked out by intense solar activity”.

It warned a powerful solar storm could cause “twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina”. That storm devastated New Orleans in 2005 and left an estimated damage bill of more than $125bn (£85bn).

Dr Fisher said precautions could be taken including creating back up systems for hospitals and power grids and allow development on satellite “safe modes”.

“If you know that a hazard is coming … and you have time enough to prepare and take precautions, then you can avoid trouble,” he added.

His division, a department of the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa headquarters in Washington DC, which investigates the Sun’s influence on the earth, uses dozens of satellites to study the threat.

The government has said it was aware of the threat and “contingency plans were in place” to cope with the fall out from such a storm.

These included allowing for certain transformers at the edge of the National Grid to be temporarily switched off and to improve voltage levels throughout the network.

The National Risk Register, established in 2008 to identify different dangers to Britain, also has “comprehensive” plans on how to handle a complete outage of electricity supplies (Telegraph, 2010).

Title: Two Large Asteroids Narrowly Miss Earth, NASA Said
Date: September 9, 2010
Source: Telegraph

Abstract: The two objects were only identified at the weekend by the Nasa-funded Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, during a routine sky scan.

The first asteroid, christened 2010 RX30, was about 65 feet (20 metres) in diameter and flew past at a distance of 154,000 miles early at 9:51am on Wednesday.

The second, called 2010 RF12, was roughly two-thirds the size of its big brother and estimated to pass within just 49,088 miles of Earth hours later.

While they were visible to many amateur stargazers, space agency researchers said neither asteroid posed a risk to earth.

Experts, however, said the “double-whammy” served as a reminder of other potentially hazardous objects expected to narrowly miss Earth in coming years.

Nasa estimates that asteroids smaller than 25 metres in diameter would burn up while entering the atmosphere and cause no damage.

Scientists said while it was common to witness a single asteroid at such close range it was rare to see two make such close passes. Figures show about 50 million NEO’s (Near Earth Objects) pass by every day.

But what made this event so significant was that the two asteroids passed so close to Earth on the same day within hours of each other.

"This is the first time we've seen (two) combined within a 24-hour period but that's probably because we don't know everything that is out there," said Lindley Johnson, program executive of the Near-Earth Object program at Nasa’s headquarters in Washington.

Donald Yeomans, another manager of the programme, which detects and tracks potentially hazardous asteroids and comets, said neither asteroid was visible to the naked eye.

He added that when they were nearest both asteroids were visible from moderate strength amateur telescopes.

In July, Nasa experts gave details of an asteroid measuring more than 600 yards wide, which has a one-in-a-thousand chance of colliding with Earth in 2182.

That collision promises to create more damage than that of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Preceding this, Apophis, a 25 million ton celestial body will narrowly miss our planet three times in succession.

The first near-miss is expected on the superstitious date of Friday 13th 2029.

"I think this is Mother Nature's way of firing a shot over the bow and warning Earth-based astronomers that we have a lot of work to do," Dr Yeomans added (Telegraph, 2010).

Britain Vulnerable To Space Nuclear Attack Or 'Solar Flare' Storm, Conference Told
September 20, 2010

Abstract: In a stark warning, Dr Liam Fox warned countries that sought nuclear capabilities could attack Britain from the upper atmosphere instead of through more traditional “nuclear strikes”.

The Defence Secretary disclosed that British officials believe such an attack involving a nuclear detonation would destroy vital electronic systems by producing an electromagnetic pulse.

Dr Fox also told the international conference on the vulnerability of electricity grids around the world to natural disaster and hostile attack, that an impending “solar flare” space storm could produce just as much damage to communication networks.

He highlighted warnings from scientists that essential infrastructure could be paralysed by a once-in-a-century solar flare.

But Dr Fox warned that terrorists might seek to employ such methods. He urged the public to take greater heed of the threat.

"I think it's a subject that we need to give a good deal more attention to, not least because we are in an era where there are those who seem to believe that we can choose to enter or not enter certain conflicts, and also because we live in a war where proliferation is becoming more not less the case," he said.

"And when we are discussing North Korea or Iran, for example, people need to understand there are other risks than just what we would consider the sort of nuclear strike we saw in Nagasaki or Hiroshima.

"The range of risks out there are many fold and I think we need to make that extremely apparent to the public."

Dr Fox’s comments on Monday came at the summit of scientists and security advisers who believe the infrastructure that underpins modern life in Western economies is potentially vulnerable to electromagnetic disruption.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed on Saturday that that one “nightmare scenario” being privately discussed by senior defence figures involves Iran successfully detonating a nuclear device high over Europe.

The Coalition’s Strategic Defence and Security Review is considering potential weaknesses in Britain’s defences against hi-tech attack or disruption.

Conventional military units, cyberwarfare and other technology-driven capabilities are likely to get more money when the review is concluded.

Much of the Ministry of Defence’s planning focuses on the risk of a hostile state exploding a nuclear weapon in space, creating a sudden, intense burst of electromagnetic energy called a high altitude electromagnetic pulse, Dr Fox said.

But planning was also for the "solar flare" storm that scientists, including those from Nasa, believe could hit the Earth within a few years.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this year that Nasa scientists believe Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation “space storm”.

Dr Fox insisted the threat of such a nuclear attack was "low", but that the Government was working internationally with telecoms, energy and transport companies to increase resilience.

"With reliance, for instance on technology, comes vulnerability, and vulnerability can invite attack," he said.

"Our wider reliance on digital technologies will not have gone unnoticed among those who would mean us harm.

"We will need to ensure that those same technological innovations that provide advantage do not become our Achilles' heel."

The Westminister meeting was jointly hosted by the Electric Infrastructure Security Council and the Henry Jackson Society, a think-tank (Telegraph, 2010).

Title: International Plan To Protect Earth From Comets And Asteroids Could Mean Billions For Contractors
Date: January 22, 2012
Source: All Gov

Abstract: Major European space contractors and space agencies recently began work on NEOShield, a three-and-a-half-year project to study how best to protect the earth from a devastating collision with an asteroid or other Near Earth Object (NEO). Although thousands of tiny objects enter the planet’s atmosphere every year, none are large enough to cause damage. However, on average, one car-sized object enters the atmosphere per year, causing a visible fireball in the sky, and about once every 2,000 years, a soccer field-sized object hits the Earth and does local damage. The concern of the new project is with much larger threats, because every few million years or so, an object miles wide strikes and does global damage. Such a collision occurred about 65 million years ago, causing the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction, which killed about half of all animal and plant species.

The largest contractor currently participating in NEOShield is EADS Astrium, a corporate giant with 2009 revenues of €4.8 billion and 15,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Others include Spanish satellite company Elecnor Deimos Imaging; along with the German, French and Russian Space Agencies. The leading proposals for avoiding a collision include using a spacecraft to nudge an asteroid off its course, either by physically striking it, firing nuclear weapons at it, or towing it with a tractor beam. Destroying an asteroid is thought to be counterproductive as it would produce a shower of smaller, but still dangerous, objects still on a collision path. Whichever of these options is proposed by the NEOShield project, the result will be contracts worth billions of dollars for many years to come, as the science to actually achieve any of them is decades away (All Gov, 2012).

Title: Asteroid's Near-Miss With Earth
Date: January 27, 2012

Abstract: The chunk of space rock, estimated to be about 36ft in diameter, will pass within around 37,000 miles of the Earth at 4pm.

Although the asteroid – named 2012 BX34 – will travel past less than a fifth of the distance to the Moon, experts said there is no cause for concern.

"It's one of the closest approaches recorded," said Gareth Williams, associate director of the US-based Minor Planet Center.

"It makes it in to the top 20 closest approaches, but it's sufficiently far away ... that there's absolutely no chance of it hitting us," he told the BBC.

The asteroid's path makes it the closest space-rock to pass by the Earth since object 2011 MD in June 2011.

 Earlier estimates put the asteroid's closest distance at as little as 12,000 miles, near the distance at which geostationary satellites reside, but observations overnight showed it will pass at a more comfortable distance.

Although the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, Dr Williams said that keen backyard astronomers could get a look.

"We've had three sets of observations in the last few hours from amateur observers in the UK," he said (Daily Mail, 2012).

Title: Europe Is Developing An Asteroid Shield…But It Won’t Be In Time For The 19-Mile Wide Monster Hurtling Past Earth Next Week
Date: January 27, 2012
Daily Mail

Abstract: Scientists are trying to find a way to protect Earth from the giant rocks which travel around the Milky Way.

Run out of Berlin with funds from the EU, the NEOShield project, which will look for a way to protect earth from the space rocks, is expected to take three years to complete.

Some of the ideas being tossed around at the moment include repelling asteroids with projectiles or explosives or using gravity to change its course.

The project though is a little late as a chunk of rock 400 times the City of London is set to hurtle closer than a rock of its size has in a very long time.

The asteroid labelled ‘(433) Eros’ measures 19 by 8 by 8 miles and is set to pass by next week.

Despite its massive size, the cosmic rock shouldn’t be too cause too much of a threat as it is on a circular path far outside the moon's orbit.

A smaller bus-sized asteroid is also set to pass extremely close to Earth today.

The asteroid 2012 BX34, will pass within 36,750 miles of Earth at about 3:30 p.m. Friday, tweeted astronomers with NASA's Asteroid Watch program.

Even though this is more than five times closer than the moon, at 11 meters wide, it won’t be any threat to earth. 

‘It wouldn't get through our atmosphere intact even if it dared to try,’ Asteroid Watch scientists tweeted yesterday. 

Nevertheless, with NASA estimating that there are almost one thousand asteroids over one kilometre in length and 19,500 over 100-metres, scientists at the Institute of Planetary Research are trying to find a way to protect Earth.

With an investment of some €4 million by the European Commission and an extra €1.8 million coming from scientific institutions and partners, the German Aerospace Center aims to have a plan for a test mission drafted within three years.

After that, if they can find the extra cash, the mission may be launched by 2020.

The scientists will be looking at a host of ideas, many of which have already been proposed. 

For one, there’s the ‘kinetic impactor’ plan where a massive projectile would deflect the asteroid.

Another is the ‘gravity tractor’ idea where a small probe would linger near the asteroid and use its gravitational traction to move it out of Earth’s way.

Or, like waging an all-out space war, some have suggested a full scale strike with nuclear missiles. 

'Of course, a lot of things have already been proposed,' Alan Harris, the study’s leader, told Spiegel Online.

‘But, so far, most of them have come from a single institution, perhaps even from a single person. So it has been hard to pursue them.’

Investigating each idea ‘will take place on paper and in lab experiments, since we don't have the money to do more than that,’ said Wolfram Lork, who works with a subsidiary on the project.

One other, coarser idea would be ‘blast deflection’ which would involve deterring the asteroid with directed explosive charges. Harris says this would be the ‘final, desperate approach.’

‘We would like to present plans for a feasible, affordable mission.

'We want to show the world it can be done,’ Harris said, adding that the ultimate solution might be a combining a gravity tractor with a kinetic impactor. 

By observing the huge craters around the world - such as the Barringer Crater in Arizona or the Nördlinger Ries near Munich - scientists know that asteroids have struck Earth in its history and that, without action, they could well strike again (Daily Mail, 2012)

Title: Bus-Sized Asteroid Buzzes Earth Today Passing Within 36,000 Miles Of Our Atmosphere
Date: January 27, 2012
Daily Mail

Abstract: An asteroid the size of a bus is set to pass extremely close to Earth today.

The asteroid 2012 BX34, will pass within 36,750 miles of Earth at about 3:30 p.m GMT/10:30am EST Friday, tweeted astronomers with NASA's Asteroid Watch program.

Even though this is more than five times closer than the moon, at 11 meters wide, the rock won’t be any threat to Earth. 

‘It wouldn't get through our atmosphere intact even if it dared to try,’ Asteroid Watch scientists tweeted Thursday. 

Asteroid Watch is a part of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

For an asteroid to cause real damage to Earth, it needs to measure at least 140m, experts estimate.

At that size they can cause widespread destruction near where they hit but will need to be far larger to cause trouble globally.

With this danger in mind, scientists in Germany have just launched a study to develop an asteroid shield.

With funds from the European Commission, the NEOShield project is expected to take three years to complete.

Some of the scientists will look at include repelling asteroids with projectiles or explosives or using gravity to change its course.

Still today's asteroid passing should offer a good show:

‘Advanced amateur astronomers might be able to observe the flyby as the asteroid brightens to 14th magnitude just before closest approach on Friday,’ the website reported (Daily Mail, 2012)

Title: Asteroid's Near-Miss With Earth
Date: January 27, 2012

Abstract: The chunk of space rock, estimated to be about 36ft in diameter, will pass within around 37,000 miles of the Earth at 4pm.

Although the asteroid – named 2012 BX34 – will travel past less than a fifth of the distance to the Moon, experts said there is no cause for concern.

 "It's one of the closest approaches recorded," said Gareth Williams, associate director of the US-based Minor Planet Center.

"It makes it in to the top 20 closest approaches, but it's sufficiently far away ... that there's absolutely no chance of it hitting us," he told the BBC.

The asteroid's path makes it the closest space-rock to pass by the Earth since object 2011 MD in June 2011.

Earlier estimates put the asteroid's closest distance at as little as 12,000 miles, near the distance at which geostationary satellites reside, but observations overnight showed it will pass at a more comfortable distance.

Although the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, Dr Williams said that keen backyard astronomers could get a look.

"We've had three sets of observations in the last few hours from amateur observers in the UK," he said (Telegraph, 2012).

Title: Asteroid Near Misses And The Threats To Come
Date: January 27, 2012

Abstract: Threats past: Asteroid near misses:

In February last year a small asteroid made the closest near-miss on record after making a sharp turn away from the Earth.

It was spotted by scientists at Nasa who said the metre-wide asteroid called 2011 CQ1 was travelling 5480 km above the Earth's surface in the region in the mid-Pacific.

The previous record holder was a rock called FU162 that skimmed the earth at an estimated distance of 6,400 kilometres in 2004.

In June last year a newly discovered asteroid the size of an office block narrowly missed Earth - coming 23 times closer than the moon.

The space rock, named 2011 MD, reached within 11,000 miles of our atmosphere and gave off a light bright enough to be seen through a small telescope.

It was first spotted by a robotic telescope in New Mexico. An alert was then put out by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts.

In September 2010 Nasa scientists revealed two asteroids had narrowly avoided Earth after passing within the moon and our planet’s orbit.

The two objects were identified by the Nasa-funded Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, during a routine sky scan.

The first asteroid, christened 2010 RX30, was about 65 feet (20 metres) in diameter and flew past at a distance of 154,000 miles.

The second, called 2010 RF12, was roughly two-thirds the size of its big brother and was estimated to pass within just 49,088 miles of Earth.

While they were visible to many amateur stargazers, space agency researchers said neither asteroid posed a risk.

Nasa estimates that asteroids smaller than 25 metres in diameter are likely to burn up while entering the atmosphere and cause no damage.

Threats to come: Known asteroids heading this way.

In July 2010, Nasa experts gave details of an asteroid measuring more than 1,800 feet wide (548 metres), which has a one-in-a-thousand chance of colliding with Earth in 2182.

That collision promises to create more damage than that of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Preceding this, Apophis, a 25 million ton celestial body is expected to narrowly miss our planet three times in succession.

The first near-miss is expected on the superstitious date of Friday 13th 2029 (Telegraph, 2012).

Title: Asteroid Threat In 2040? Scientists Watch 2011 AG5
Date: February 28, 2012
Source: ABC News

Abstract: There is an 
asteroid called 2011 AG5, and if it follows the orbit scientists have plotted for it so far, there is a small, small chance that it could hit Earth in February 2040.

Don't quit your job and sell your house just yet. Astronomers, who have been tracking the asteroid since January 2011, say it is in an elliptical orbit that could bring it somewhere near Earth in 2040. Earth is about 8,000 miles in diameter; the asteroid appears to be about 450 feet across.

The problem is that having watched it for only about half an orbit around the Sun, the scientists cannot say for certain where it will be 28 years from now. So, for the moment, NASA's Near Earth Object Program says the odds are about one in 625 that it could hit us in that still-distant future.

"We have a good opportunity to observe it next year and again in 2015," said Donald Yoemans, who heads the program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We fully expect that the odds will go way down, most likely to zero, by then."

In the meantime, it was a subject of discussion at a meeting in Vienna of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

The committee members agreed that 2011 AG5 bears watching, and could be useful as the subject of a "tabletop exercise" in what to do if, anytime soon, there really is an asteroid with our name on it.

"In our Action Team 14 discussions, we thus concluded that it not necessarily can be called a 'real' threat. To do that, ideally, we should have at least one, if not two, full orbits observed," said Detlef Koschny of the European Space Agency in an interview with

Scientists have discussed all sorts of far-out plans in case a future asteroid truly does turn out to be coming our way. If they have enough lead time, they might send a probe with thruster rockets, or even explosives, to nudge an asteroid into a slightly different orbit. A very small course change, years in advance, could make a big difference by 2040, they say. Even if the asteroid misses Earth by less than a hundred miles, its passing will be a non-event.

There are asteroids wandering around the inner solar system all the time -- one of them, called 2005 YU55, passed within 201,000 miles of Earth in November, closer than the moon is to us.

But about half a dozen times since the planet formed, there have been major for-real impacts with catastrophic results. The last, 65 million years ago, is believed to have killed off the last of the dinosaurs with the dust and ash that darkened the skies after it hit, though there have been scientists who disagree.

Scientists estimate that the asteroid from back then was about nine miles across at its widest, far larger than 2011 AG5. And they point out that they know very little about 2011 AG5; they cannot say whether it is a solid hunk of rock or a loose jumble of debris flying together in space. All they know is that it's in a long, elliptical orbit that takes it almost twice as far from the sun as we are.

"The bottom line is: We have time," Yoemans said. "The sober approach is to make more observations, to wait and see" (ABC News, 2012).

Title: Blast It Or Paint It: Asteroid To Threaten Earth In 2013
Date: March 3, 2012

Abstract: To avert a possible catastrophe – this time set for February 2013 – scientists suggest confronting asteroid 2012 DA14 with either paint or big guns. The stickler is that time has long run out to build a spaceship to carry out the operation.

NASA's data shows the 60-meter asteroid, spotted by Spanish stargazers in February, will whistle by Earth in 11 months. Its trajectory will bring it within a hair’s breadth of our planet, raising fears of a possible collision.

The asteroid, known as DA14, will pass by our planet in February 2013 at a distance of under 27,000 km (16,700 miles). This is closer than the geosynchronous orbit of some satellites.

There is a possibility the asteroid will collide with Earth, but further calculation is required to estimate the potential threat and work out how to avert possible disaster, NASA expert Dr. David Dunham told students at Moscow’s University of Electronics and Mathematics (MIEM).

“The Earth’s gravitational field will alter the asteroid’s path significantly. Further scrupulous calculation is required to estimate the threat of collision,” said Dr. Dunham, as transcribed by Russia’s Izvestia. “The asteroid may break into dozens of small pieces, or several large lumps may split from it and burn up in the atmosphere. The type of the asteroid and its mineral structure can be determined by spectral analysis. This will help predict its behavior in the atmosphere and what should be done to prevent the potential threat,” said Dr. Dunham.

In the event of a collision, scientists have calculated that the energy released would equate to the destructive power of a thermo-nuclear bomb.

In response to the threat, scientists have come up with some ingenious methods to avert a potential disaster.

Fireworks and watercolors

With the asteroid zooming that low, it will be too late to do anything with it besides trying to predict its final destination and the consequences of impact.

A spaceship is needed, experts agree. It could shoot the rock down or just crash into it, either breaking the asteroid into debris or throwing it off course.

We could paint it,” says NASA expert David Dunham.

Paint would affect the asteroid’s ability to reflect sunlight, changing its temperature and altering its spin. The asteroid would stalk off its current course, but this could also make the boulder even more dangerous when it comes back in 2056, Aleksandr Devaytkin, the head of the observatory in Russia’s Pulkovo, told Izvestia.

Spaceship impossible?

Whatever the mission, building a spaceship to deal with 2012 DA14 will take two years – at least. 

The asteroid has proven a bitter discovery. It has been circling in orbit for three years already, crossing Earth’s path several times, says space analyst Sergey Naroenkov from the Russian Academy of Sciences. It seems that spotting danger from outer space is still the area where mere chance reigns, while asteroid defense systems exist only in drafts.

Still, prospects of meeting 2012 DA14 are not all doom and gloom.

The asteroid may split into pieces entering the atmosphere. In this case, most part of it will never reach the planet’s surface,” remarks Dunham.

But if the entire asteroid is to crash into the planet, the impact will be as hard as in the Tunguska blast, which in 1908 knocked down trees over a total area of 2,150 sq km (830 sq miles) in Siberia. This is almost the size of Luxembourg. In today’s case, the destination of the asteroid is yet to be determined (RT, 2012)

Title: Asteroid To Buzz By Earth Next Year – Time To Call The Insurance Agent?
Date: March 6, 2012
Fox News

Abstract: Asteroid 2012 DA14 -- a 150-foot-wide jagged hunk of rock hurtling through the blackness of space -- came within 1.5 million miles of the Earth on Feb. 16. Discovered in late February by astronomers in Spain, it will pass just 16,700 miles from our planet next year, according to 
NASA -- even closer than many geostationary communications satellites.

The small asteroid probably won't hit those satellites, though NASA is still looking to refine its understanding of DA14's orbit, spokesman D.C. Agile told But one thing is pretty clear: It won't hit us. NASA’s Near Earth Object program lists the probability that it will strike Earth as 1 in 77,000 -- a 99.9987 percent chance that it will miss.

That’s not good enough for some people, however. For them, there’s asteroid insurance.

Allstate Insurance’s ads warn you about “acts of mayhem” and urge you to get coverage from them. And indeed, the company’s standard policy has an “all peril” clause; since asteroid impacts don’t happen frequently enough to be noted on the exclusion list, you’d probably be covered if one hit your house, a sales agent told

Likewise, Lloyd's of London would cover you in case of an asteroid strike. 

"Damage caused by asteroids would generally be covered by property insurance policies," a spokeswoman for the company told

Liberty Mutual’s homeowner’s insurance covers “falling objects” -- but a sales agent said asteroids wouldn’t qualify. Those are “acts of God,” and a standard policy wouldn’t cover it.

Lloyd's of London wrote an entire news release about asteroid impacts, predicated on end-of-the-world rumors surrounding the Mayan calendar.

“Insurers Lloyd's of London do sometimes have to consider out-of-this-world catastrophe exposures. The possible outcome of a large asteroid hitting an urban environment is one of them,” the company said.

Further calculation will be required to determine just how likely DA14 is to hit Earth, much less your home, NASA expert David Dunham told students at Moscow’s University of Electronics and Mathematics.

“The Earth’s gravitational field will alter the asteroid’s path significantly. Further scrupulous calculation is required to estimate the threat of collision,” Dunham said, according to RT online. “The asteroid may break into dozens of small pieces, or several large lumps may split from it and burn up in the atmosphere.”

Asteroids fall to Earth quite regularly, but they rarely strike homes.

So Srinivasan Nageswaran should consider himself lucky.

In 2007, an asteroid opened up a hole in the ceiling of his house in Freehold Township, N.J., denting the tiles in his bathroom.

“The fact that something from outer space hit our house ... it’s overwhelming,” Nageswaran told the Associated Press at the time.

It’s unclear whether insurance picked up the cost of repairs (Fox News, 2012).

Title: Solar Explosions Now On Official Register As Threat To The Security Of Hi-Tech Britain
March 18, 2012

Cabinet Office includes solar flares alongside terrorism, floods and pandemics in a list of catastrophes that could damage the country.

England's farmers may be praying for a sustained downpour amid the current drought, but Whitehall has a more exotic
weather threat on its mind.

Explosions on the sun that blast solar winds towards the Earth have been identified for the first time as one of the biggest threats to the UK's ability to carry on normal daily life, according to a new official government register of major risks to the country.

A significant event on the sun could leave large swaths of the country without electricity, lead to the immediate grounding of planes, disable communications and even destroy household appliances.

The danger has been prioritised in the Cabinet Office's National Risk of Civil Emergencies as the sun enters the most active point in its 10-year cycle – its solar max – raising the chances of a damaging burst of radiation, plasma or energetic particles (such as neutrons).

More significantly, the UK is regarded as particularly vulnerable because scientific advances have made the country more dependent on technology than ever before. Ministers have been advised by scientists that the most advanced technology is also the most delicate and that "high levels of energetic particles produced in the atmosphere by solar radiation storms can greatly enhance error rates in ground digital components found in all modern technology".

The newly published risk register lists severe space weather alongside terrorist attacks, coastal flooding and pandemic influenza as likely sources of "serious damage to human welfare".

It says: "Severe space weather can cause disruption to a range of technologies and infrastructure, including communications systems, electronic circuits and power grids."

The register adds: "While storm impacts in the early- to mid-20th century appear relatively benign, dependency on technology vulnerable to space weather has pervaded most aspects of modern life, and therefore the disruptive consequences of a severe solar storm could be significant."

The threat was placed on the register after a panel of experts, including two scientists from the Meteorological Office, produced a "reasonable worst case scenario" for ministers.

Mark Gibbs, one of the Met Office's representatives on the panel, told the Observer he could not "go into details" about the repercussions of an occurrence of the most damaging type of space weather, but added that a solar storm could induce currents in power lines leading to a failure of the main grid; meddle with the components in planes, particularly those flying over the north pole, where solar radiation is most noticeable; and ultimately provoke a major civil emergency.

Gibbs said: "Potentially the biggest risk of all is to the electricity supply. Now in the US that is deemed to be a catastrophic risk. They could lose a very large proportion of their power grid. In the UK, for many different reasons – better engineering design, different way it operates, geology – the risk is less severe, but it is a risk nonetheless. Society can't function without power."

Professor Andrew Coates, head of the planetary science group at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said the level of damage caused by solar storms depended on their speed and magnetic direction. He added that there were contingency measures that could be taken, but the worst possible scenario would make any preparations meaningless.

Coates said: "The sun is the source of it all. The culprit if you like. As well as heat and light, it emits charge particles, a million tonnes a second of solar wind particles which blow outwards away from the sun. They are so hot that they can escape the sun's atmosphere. That plasma moves out through the solar system and the Earth obviously gets in the way of some of it.

"If we know an event is coming, we have to be careful. Astronauts on a space station will hide in a place with more shielding, thicker walls. Satellite operations can be planned so that critical operations don't happen when we are expecting bad space weather. Flights can have their plans changed and terrestrial systems can be monitored and the capacity of the grid can be adjusted accordingly.

"If the worst happens, which happens once every few hundred years, that sort of event would have a huge effect on technology that we rely on and go beyond the types of contingency there are in the system."

James Arbuthnot, chairman of the parliamentary defence select committee, which called for the government to address the risks earlier this year, said there was also the danger of man-made weapons being exploded in space to create electromagnetic pulses, knocking out satellites, radar and the national grid.

Arbuthnot said: "We are becoming more and more reliant on technology and that technology is becoming more and more delicate. Be afraid, very afraid” (Guardian, 2012).

Title: Company Aims To Mine Resource-Rich Asteroids
Date: April 25, 2012

Abstract: Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis pioneered the business of sending millionaire tourists to space. Now they want to mine asteroids for what they say will be tens of billions of dollars worth of resources annually for use on Earth and beyond.

Seattle-area's Planetary Resources, backed by big-money investors including filmmaker James Cameron and Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, said Tuesday it plans to develop and launch a series of robotic systems and unmanned spacecraft, starting with its Arkyd-100 Earth-orbiting space telescopes that it hopes to launch by the end of 2013 to identify candidate near-Earth asteroids.

The company hopes to dispatch swarms of Arkyd-300 prospecting spacecraft, which would orbit candidate asteroids and finish the process of determining what they hold, within 10 years.

The Bellevue, Washington, company would then unveil a new system of spacecraft for the payoff -- mining precious metal, such as platinum, for use on Earth -- and extracting water, whose elements the company says can be used for fuel and life-support systems in space.

In short, Planetary Resources hopes it will be in a very crucial and lucrative position of not only boosting terrestrial industry, but also setting up a network of fuel depots that humanity will need to better explore the solar system and beyond.

"The Earth is feeling a resource pinch, and ultimately we will have the ability to turn that which is scarce into abundant," Diamandis, who co-founded Planetary Resources with Anderson in 2009 but generally kept mum about the project until this month, said at a press event in Seattle on Tuesday.

"It can be done, and yes, it's very difficult ... but the returns economically and the benefit to humanity are extraordinary," added Diamandis, who also is chairman of the X Prize Foundation.

Company representatives said having platinum and other metals in more abundance would ensure humanity's continued ability to develop important electronics, and perhaps make them cheaper.

A single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid would have the equivalent of all the platinum-group metals ever mined on Earth, the company said. And the right 80-meter asteroid would have more than $100 billion worth of materials, Anderson said.

"We can use these asteroids to grow our prosperity for the future," said Anderson, who in the 1990s founded Space Adventures with Diamandis The company brokered millionaires' rides to the international space station on Soyuz spacecraft.

Planetary Resources adviser and former NASA astronaut Tom Jones said commercial enterprises like this one can do things that governments can't: build multiple, simple spacecraft at relatively low cost, while accepting the risk of losing some vessels, and produce at a higher pace.

He highlighted the potential usefulness of water extraction. The cost of bringing water to the international space station is $20,000 per liter, he said.

"I believe that, beyond the international space station, we won't have a permanent presence in space unless we can reduce the cost of life-support systems," Jones said. "These materials can not only spur less-costly life support, but also generate wealth, which can provide support for more exploration throughout the solar system."

Anderson said the investors realize the company could fail.

"But (the investors) believe that attempting this and moving the needle for space is worth it," he said.

The Arkyd-100 space telescopes will benefit more than just Planetary Resources, said Chris Lewicki, the company's chief engineer and a former NASA Mars mission manager. Schools eventually will be able to access them, making "a once-rare tool available to an entirely new audience."

The company plans to be relatively small. It has about 24 engineers now, and though it is looking to hire, it doesn't anticipate hiring hundreds, Anderson said. And when mining starts, the company hopes to do it all robotically, because humans in space would increase the cost.

"There may be mining expeditions that require humans, but we would really try not to if we can, because it's better business," Anderson said.

The company said it doesn't currently intend to launch its own vehicles, saying it is looking for "ride share" opportunities with other space entities that it didn't name.

While Planetary Resources focuses on asteroids, another company said it's the moon we should be mining.

Moon Express of Mountain View, California, announced Tuesday it had recruited five top lunar scientists to join its advisory board as it makes plans to extract precious metals from the moon.

The company said asteroids have been hitting the moon for ages, depositing the precious metals they carry on the lunar surface.

"There is clear evidence of significant platinum group metals on the moon from Apollo samples and lunar meteorites, and we've discovered evidence for localized hot spots that will help us choose landing sites to practice mining techniques," Alan Stern, the chief scientist at Moon Express, said in a press release.

"I believe that the presence of water and ease of mining platinum group elements on the Moon's surface far, far trumps arguments that NEO's (asteroids) are energetically easier to get samples from than the moon," Stern said in the release.

Moon Express plans to send robots to explore mining sites on the moon, the company said (CNN, 2012).

Title: Space Weather Expert Has Ominous Forecast
May 4, 2012
LA Times

A stream of highly charged particles from the sun is headed straight toward Earth, threatening to plunge cities around the world into darkness and bring the global economy screeching to a halt.

This isn't the premise of the latest doomsday thriller. Massive solar storms have happened before — and another one is likely to occur soon, according to Mike Hapgood, a space weather scientist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, England.

Much of the planet's electronic equipment, as well as orbiting satellites, have been built to withstand these periodic geomagnetic storms. But the world is still not prepared for a truly damaging solar storm, Hapgood argues in a recent commentary published in the journal Nature.

Hapgood talked with The Times about the potential effects of such a storm and how the world should prepare for it.

What exactly is a solar storm?

I find that's hard to answer. The term "solar storm" has crept into our usage, but nobody has defined what it means. Whether a "solar storm" is happening on the sun or is referring to the effect on the Earth depends on who's talking.

I prefer "space weather," because it focuses our attention on the phenomena in space that travel from the sun to the Earth.

People often talk about solar flares and solar storms in the same breath. What's the difference?

Solar flares mainly emit X-rays — we also get radio waves from these things, and white light in the brightest of flares. They all travel at the same speed as light, so it takes eight minutes to arrive. There are some effects from flares, such as radio interference from the radio bursts.

But that's a pretty small-beer thing. The big thing is the geomagnetic storms [on Earth] that affect the power grid, and that's caused by the coronal mass ejections [from the sun].

Coronal mass ejections are caused when the magnetic field in the sun's atmosphere gets disrupted and then the plasma, the sun's hot ionized gas, erupts and send charged particles into space. Think of it like a hurricane — is it headed toward us or not headed toward us? If we're lucky, it misses us.

How are solar flares and coronal mass ejections related?

There's an association between flares and coronal mass ejections, but it's a relationship we don't quite understand scientifically. Sometimes the CME launches before the flare occurs, and vice versa.

What happens when those particles reach Earth?

There can be a whole range of effects. The classic one everyone quotes is the effect on the power grid. A big geomagnetic storm can essentially put extra electric currents into the grid. If it gets bad enough, you can have a complete failure of the power grid — it happened in Quebec back in 1989. If you've got that, then you've just got to get it back on again. But you could also damage the transformers, which would make it much harder to get the electric power back.

How else could people be affected?

You get big disturbances in the Earth's upper atmosphere — what we call the ionosphere — and that could be very disruptive to things like GPS [the network of global positioning system satellites]. Given the extent we use GPS in everyday life [including for cellphone networks, shipping safety and financial transaction records], that's a big issue.

The storms can also disrupt communications on transoceanic flights. Sometimes when that happens, they will either divert or cancel flights. So that would be the like the disruption we had in Europe from the volcano two years ago, where they had to close down airspace for safety reasons.

What went wrong in the 1989 storm?

In the U.K., there were two damaged transformers that had to be repaired. But no power cuts. The worst thing is what happened in Quebec. In Quebec, the power system went from normal operation to failure in 90 seconds. It  affected around 6 million people. The impact was reckoned to be $2 billion Canadian in 1989 prices.

We had lots of disruption to communications to spacecraft operations. The North American Aerospace Defense Command has big radars tracking everything in space, and as they describe it, they lost 1,600 space objects. They found them again, but for a few days they didn't know where they were.

Is that the biggest geomagnetic storm on record?

We always describe the storm in 1859 as the biggest space weather event. We know there were huge impacts on the telegraph, which suggests there would be similarly severe impacts on modern power grids. It's hard to compare it to the 1989 event because of the changes in our technology.

Many systems have been built to withstand a storm as big as the 1989 event. Is that good enough?

A serious concern would be whole regions losing electrical power for some significant time. Here in the U.K., the official assessment is that we could lose one or two regions where the power might be out for several months.

What would the consequences be? (LA Times, 2012).

Title: NASA Estimates 4,700 'Potentially Hazardous' Asteroids
Date: May 17, 2012

Abstract: About 4,700 asteroids are close enough and big enough to pose a risk to Earth, NASA estimated Wednesday after studying data beamed back from an orbiting telescope.

The figure -- give or take 1,500 -- is how many space rocks bigger than 100 meters (330 feet) across are believed to come within 5 million miles (8 million km) of Earth, or about 20 times farther away than the moon.

"It's not something that people should panic about," said Amy Mainzer, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. "However, we are paying attention to the issue."

NASA defines a potentially hazardous asteroid as one large enough to survive the intense heat generated by entry into the atmosphere and cause damage on a regional scale or worse. The figure released Wednesday is lower than a previous rough estimate had projected, but more are now thought to be in orbits inclined like Earth's, making them more likely to cross its path.

Asteroid found that dates back to early solar system

Mainzer said asteroids in orbits pitched at a similar angle offer not only a hazard, but also an opportunity. They would be easier for spacecraft to reach.

"They're a population of interest, and we want to keep an eye on them," she said.

NASA says a 40-meter asteroid would strike the Earth with an impact comparable to a 3-megaton nuclear bomb. A 2-km asteroid striking Earth "would produce severe environmental damage on a global scale," the space agency estimates, but an impact of that magnitude isn't likely to occur more than twice per million years.

The estimate comes from infrared scans of the cosmos by the 16-inch WISE telescope, which was launched in December 2009. The instruments aboard the satellite allowed scientists to spot close-in asteroids by picking up the heat they emit, Mainzer said.

Threat? One company wants to mine asteroids

"It allows us to find the very dark asteroids, the ones that are more like a piece of coal and than shiny pavement," she said. "We can also tell the difference between an asteroid that's very large and very dark and a small one that's very shiny."

Mainzer said between 20% and 30% of the estimated 4,700 potentially hazardous objects have been discovered so far (CNN, 2012).

Title: New Telescope To Guard Earth From Killer Asteroids
Date: June 30, 2012

Abstract: Some 500,000 asteroids are circulating near-Earth space and some of them may pose a real danger to our planet. But a US company says it plans to build a telescope that will be able to watch them.

Some asteroids may collide with Earth between 2020 and 2030, and only about 10,000 out of half a million have been catalogued to date – so  time is of the essence. But the B612 Foundation is certain its future telescope called Sentinel, which may be launched into orbit around the sun in about five years, can help to chart the rest of them in less than six years of operation.

“This is going to be the definitive map of the inner solar system,” says Ed Lu, a former NASA astronaut and B612 Foundation’s CEO.

Once completed, the map will help researchers spot potentially dangerous asteroids and identify others that could be targets for mining activities, for example. The goal is to have decades of notice, Lu told Reuters.

"I think it would be embarrassing if we were to be struck by a major asteroid in the next few decades simply because we didn't choose to do the mapping that's needed to find these asteroids," he said.

Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart believes it is not a question of if Earth will be hit by an asteroid, but when. Our planet has already had a calamitous experience of this kind. In one such case Earth’s dinosaurs were wiped 65 million years ago. A more recent event, which is believed to have been caused by a comet that exploded in Siberia, destroyed more than 2,000 square kilometers of taiga forest.

Provided any future threat of this kind is spotted in time, humankind could use a range of technologies that already exist, such as the power of nuclear energy, in order to deflect the asteroid, Lu said.

During its planned 5.5-year mission, Sentinel should be able to find 90 per cent of near-Earth asteroids that are 140 meters in diameter or larger, as well as some 50 per cent of those measuring at least 40 meters across.

However, building the prospective wide-angle, infra-red telescope requires substantial investment. The company estimates it would have to raise several hundred million US dollars, and to this end it is counting on private donors.

Sentinel will be built by Ball Aerospace and operated by the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colorado. The launch with a Falcon 9 rocket is tentatively planned for 2017-2018 (RT, 2012).

Title: Simulated Space ‘Terror’ Offers NASA An Online Following
July 10, 2012
New York Times

The video is called “Seven Minutes of Terror,” and describes, with the suspense and cinematography of a movie preview, what will happen next month when a one-ton spacecraft launched in November smacks into Mars.

“We’ve got literally seven minutes to get from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of Mars, going from 13,000 miles an hour to zero,” Tom Rivellini, a NASA engineer, tells the camera with a grim face and deadpan delivery. “If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game over.”

Posted last month on YouTube, the video has succeeded in an area where NASA has a mixed track record: using social media and other tools of the 21st century to whip up interest in space exploration.

Despite minimal publicity, “Seven Minutes” has been racking up views and attracting droll commentary on the impending arrival of the rover, which goes by the name of Curiosity.

“Come on, NASA,” one person said in a comment on YouTube, “All that is missing in this blockbuster trailer is Megan Fox as the chief scientist.”

Maybe NASA can get Mr. Moviefone to do the mission commentary.

Much of the space agency’s public utterances are dry stuff; recent news releases include “NASA Selects Contracts for Environmental Remediation Services” and “NASA Awards Five Universities Funding for Learning Opportunities.” Like other federal agencies, it is not allowed to spend money to toot its own horn.

“We don’t try to market,” said Robert Jacobs, a NASA spokesman. “We don’t try to sell anything. Our job is to clean the windows to give the American public a better view of their space program.”

And yet the space officials have tried to add a measure of cute and playful.

Three years ago, NASA ran a contest to name a module on the International Space Station. But the comedian Stephen Colbert co-opted it, exhorting his viewers to vote for “Colbert.” That name ended up winning, with more than 230,000 votes.

NASA put aside the results and named the module Tranquility, commemorating the landing site of Apollo 11. But the space agency did later name an exercise treadmill on the space station after Mr. Colbert.

As part of the educational program for the James Webb Space Telescope, the planned successor to Hubble that has been troubled by delays and cost overruns, NASA created a game in which players create their own space telescope, but to underwhelming reviews.

“Too bad this game is not totally realistic so as to let people play with schedule and cost,” wrote Keith Cowing, a frequent critic of the space agency, on his Web site “This way they’d REALLY learn how NASA satellites are built (or not built).”

This time, NASA seems to have a hit. The “Seven Minutes” video, viewed more than half a million times, starts with a computer-generated animation of a capsule falling toward the Red Planet, then uses stark lighting, thumping music, fancy graphics and dramatic narration to tease the landing of the Curiosity, a $2.5 billion mission that aims to see if the building blocks of life existed on early Mars.

On the East Coast, the landing will happen in the wee hours of Monday, Aug. 6 — or nighttime on Aug. 5 on the West Coast — and it will be competing for mindspace with the Summer Olympics. That is not stopping the Atlanta Science Tavern, which organizes popular science talks, from going all out for an evening that starts with five talks on planetary science and segues into “full-fledged party mode” at midnight when NASA television coverage of the landing starts. The festivities will conclude at 3 a.m.

Already 173 people have signed up. “It’s science,” said the group’s director, Marc Merlin, “but it’s also a public celebration of scientific achievement.”

Mr. Merlin said he was thinking of bringing a model of the Mars rover that would descend on a rope à la the lighted ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. “That would be the decoration I would like to do,” he said.

Technically, the seven minutes of terror will be more like 21 minutes of suspense. The capsule containing the Curiosity will hit the top of the Martian atmosphere just before 1:11 a.m. Eastern time on Aug. 6. The rover will be on the surface about seven minutes later. The only uncertainty is whether the rover will be in one piece or in smithereens.

On Earth, no one will know the outcome for almost 14 minutes as the spacecraft’s radio signals travel 150 million miles from Mars.

“When people look at it, it looks crazy,” says Adam Steltzner, a NASA engineer, in the “Seven Minutes” video as he describes the Rube Goldberg-esque landing process — heat shield, parachute, rocket engines and finally a hovering crane that lowers the rover to the surface.

Text flashes across the screen: “6 vehicle configurations,” then “76 pyrotechnic charges.”

“Sometimes when we look at it, it looks crazy” Mr. Steltzner goes on to say, before asserting more confidently, “It is the result of reasoned engineering thought.” Pause. “But it still looks crazy.”

The slick video is “definitely a step up,” said Reid Gower, a 26-year-old Canadian who was so frustrated by NASA’s previous efforts that last year he put together NASA snippets into a promotional video that he thought the space agency should be making. “That’s along the lines of what I feel they could be doing, something that’s education but also engaging. It’s not static and dry. It has emotional content in it.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 12, 2012
An article on Wednesday about a dramatic NASA video that is drawing attention to the expected landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars next month misstated the time the capsule carrying the rover is predicted to enter the Martian atmosphere. It is 1:11 a.m. Eastern time on Aug. 6 — not 12:11 a.m. (New York Times, 2012).

Title: Even Bruce Willis Couldn't Save Earth From 'Armageddon' Asteroid
Date: August 17, 2012

Abstract: So here's a shocker: It turns out the 1998 asteroid disaster movie "Armageddon" was a tad unrealistic.

In the film, a team led by Bruce Willis plants a nuclear bomb deep inside a 600-mile-wide (1,000 kilometers) asteroid as it streaks toward Earth. The explosion splits the space rock in two, and the pieces zip safely past the planet, ensuring humanity lives to see another day.

But a new analysis by four physics students in England suggests that this asteroid-deflection tactic couldn't possibly have worked. Willis and his band of roughnecks would've needed a bomb almost 2 billion times stronger than anything ever detonated on Earth, the students say.

Ben Hall, Gregory Brown, Ashley Back and Stuart Turner — all master's students at the University of Leicester — devised a formula to determine the total amount of kinetic energy needed to blast apart the "Armageddon" asteroid and ensure that the chunks miss Earth.

They came up with a figure of 800 trillion terajoules — compared with the 418,000 terajoules produced by history's most powerful blast, the Soviet Union's test detonation of the "Big Ivan" hydrogen bomb in 1961.

The students also conclude that humanity would have to detect such a large asteroid much earlier than in the movie to have any chance of deflecting it. (In the movie, the Texas-size space rock is discovered just 18 days before its potential impact.)

"I really enjoyed the film 'Armageddon' and up until recently never really considered the plausibility in the science behind the movie," Hall, 22, said in a statement. "But after watching it back, I found myself being more skeptical about the film in many areas.

"I think that directors attempt to make films scientifically accurate but find that a lot of trouble is run into in what can and cannot be done, thus leading to falsification in the science to make movies more interesting or visually appealing to the audience," he added.

Hall and his colleagues published their results in two papers — "Could Bruce Willis Save the World?" and "Could Bruce Willis Predict the End of the World?" — in this year’s University of Leicester Journal of Special Physics Topics, which features original studies conducted by students in the final year of the four-year program toward a Master of Physics degree.

While "Armageddon" got some big things wrong, scientists do think humanity can deflect many dangerous asteroids if they're detected early enough.

Most researchers regard a nuclear explosion as an option of last resort, however – something to try if the clock is really running out.

With years or decades of lead time, a so-called "gravity tractor" probe could be launched to rendezvous and fly with the asteroid. Over time, the spacecraft's subtle gravitational tug could pull the space rock into a more benign orbit.

Or a kinetic impactor could be slammed into the asteroid in deep space, knocking it onto a different path. But this might be tough to achieve when it is the 600-mile-wide "Armageddon" asteroid, which is about the same size as the dwarf planet Ceres (, 2012)

Title: 'Armageddon'? Scientists Plan To Deflect Earth-Bound Asteroids
Date: August 17, 2012
Source: Fox News

Abstract: It’s not "Armageddon," but it’s close.

The European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, the Secure World FoundationDescription: and others have been intently studying the skies lately -- worrying about how to deflect a potential planet-shattering asteroid.

No such space rock has been detected yet, despite Internet chatter about the 1,600-foot-wide asteroid Apophis that space experts predict will skirt Earth by a few hundred thousand miles in 2036. But as in the movie "Armageddon," it's always an option -- one scientists are watching and worrying about.

"It has happened in the past. And it will happen again," Dr Gerhard Drolshagen from the European Space Agency's Space Situational AwarenessDescription: program office told

In Bruce Willis' Hollywood blockbuster, a team of space jockeys try to blow up an asteroid on a path for Earth. That's one option, of course: The ESA at one time conceived an asteroid-busting plan along similar lines.

Called "Don Quijote," the 2005 concept by the ESA that involves firing a so-called "impactor" satellite into a "test" asteroid in 2015 to see if it knocks the space rock off course. It's no bomb as in the film, but still intriguing.

"If an asteroid were ever detected, we'd want to do something -- and deflection is definitely one of the options," an ESA source told But despite a Daily Mail story touting the programDescription: as current, Don Quijote has long been shuttered.

"The Don Quijote mission has been a study only. ESA is not working on this mission anymore," ESA spokesman Andreas Schepers told

Nevertheless, the ESA and several other space players in the last decade have worked on mission plans on how best to deflect an asteroid. NASA intentionally sent an impactor probe crashing into the comet Tempel 1 in July 2005, for example.

Europe's space agency has recently concentrated its asteroid eyes in the SSA, which will rely on specially constructed telescopes, amateurs astronomers, and collaboration with outside agencies such as the Smithsonian Institute's Minor Planet CenterDescription: and the Secure World Foundation to study the skies for dangers.

It envisions several wild ways to deflect an asteroid, Drolshagen told And the "Armageddon"-style technique isn't necessarily the best one.

"You don't do it like Bruce Willis. That's not the way to do it," he said.

Readjusting an asteroid's path could be as simple spreading a big white sheet of plastic over it. If detected far enough out in space, the force of the solar beams striking the sheet alone would probably be enough to move it.

"Paint it white to increase the reflectivity," Drolshagen said.

Alternately, a satellite could land a little motor with a thruster on the asteroid; a force akin to your breath on your hand would be sufficient to deflect an asteroid's path, given it was detected far enough away.

Or you could just use a laser.

"You could point laser beam at the surface and eject some materials from it" he suggested. "This you could do in a very controlled way."

A third idea: a "mass projector" that would slowly chisel away at the surface. There's also the concept of a gravity tractor -- a massive spacecraft a few tons in size that could slow tug an asteroid off path with the force of its sheer bulk.

"If you have several weeks or months, you could slowly push it away," Drolshagen told "A little push -- a centimeter per second in velocity change -- would be enough if you had 20 years time."

And those are the realistic ideas, he said, citing several more exotic concepts: An explosion near the surface that could eject material, lasers, magnetic tractors, even sails to harness the solar winds.

However, if an asteroid is found hurtling towards us with only months to spare, we're in trouble.

"Blowing it apart is likely not possible" if it isn't detected far enough out, he warned. "Right now we would not be able to do it and there no plans to do it -- but it's not a good idea anyway."

Fortunately, most of the large asteroids nearby have already been detected, experts agree. But even small ones could have devastating potential.

"Anything more than 300 to 400 meters (983-1,312 feet) in diameter can cause continental-scale damage," Stephen Wolters, a research fellow at Caltech who studies near-Earth asteroids at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Space.comDescription:

That's why the ESA program exists, as well as similar programs from NASA and other space agencies.

There's always a fallback option, however.

"If everything else fails we might call in Bruce Willis," Drolshagen told (Fox News, 2012)

Title: International Plan To Protect Earth From Comets And Asteroids Could Mean Billions For Contractors
Date: August 22, 2012

Abstract: Major European space contractors and space agencies recently began work on NEOShield, a three-and-a-half-year project to study how best to protect the earth from a devastating collision with an asteroid or other Near Earth Object (NEO). Although thousands of tiny objects enter the planet’s atmosphere every year, none are large enough to cause damage. However, on average, one car-sized object enters the atmosphere per year, causing a visible fireball in the sky, and about once every 2,000 years, a soccer field-sized object hits the Earth and does local damage. The concern of the new project is with much larger threats, because every few million years or so, an object miles wide strikes and does global damage. Such a collision occurred about 65 million years ago, causing the 
Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction, which killed about half of all animal and plant species.

The largest contractor currently participating in NEOShield is EADS Astrium, a corporate giant with 2009 revenues of €4.8 billion and 15,000 employees in FranceGermany, the United KingdomSpain and the Netherlands. Others include Spanish satellite company Elecnor Deimos Imaging; along with the German, French and Russian Space Agencies. The leading proposals for avoiding a collision include using a spacecraft to nudge an asteroid off its course, either by physically striking it, firing nuclear weapons at it, or towing it with a tractor beam. Destroying an asteroid is thought to be counterproductive as it would produce a shower of smaller, but still dangerous, objects still on a collision path. Whichever of these options is proposed by the NEOShield project, the result will be contracts worth billions of dollars for many years to come, as the science to actually achieve any of them is decades away (AllGov, 2012)

Title: Government Adviser In Fight To 'Save Earth' Against Devastating Solar Storms Expected To Knock Out National Grid In 2013
Date: August 22, 2012
Daily Mail

Abstract: A space professor from Oxfordshire is battling 'to save Earth' from a solar storm that experts fear will wreak worldwide chaos next year.

Professor Mike Hapgood, who chairs the Space Environment Impacts Experts Group (SEIEG) and advises the Government on space weather, says solar storms, generated by an outburst from the sun, are set to knock out national power grids and Global Positioning Systems.

He believes magnetic rays from the storm will result in widespread blackouts which will plunge homes and businesses into darkness.

It could also lead to potentially deadly knock-on effects, for instance if hydro-electric dams holding back millions of gallons of water are knocked offline.

Early next year, the sun will reach the peak of its 11-year activity cycle, which puts the planet at greater risk of such storms.

And experts say with the planet now relying on the Internet and hi-tech gadgetry, the chaos caused by the 2013 solar storm will have a far greater impact than any in the past.

Prof Hapgood, who studied at Oxford, warned: 'A big magnetic storm can permeate the Earth's crust, which can drive electric currents through aluminium or copper wires in the National grid, which could cause a national blackout.

'Interactions with Earth's atmosphere can also affect any radio signals. If you had a big storm, GPS might be unavailable for a couple of days.

'On July 21 this year there was a very large event on the far side of the sun, if it had intercepted Earth we would have had a very large magnetic storm.'

All manner of transport relies on GPS including aircraft and if the systems suddenly collapse, there could be lethal consequences.

He said 'My main interest is to study the likely extremes in these scenarios. These are enormous events that could have a very significant effect on GDP.

'The National Grid now relies on warnings from space craft carrying equipment built at Rutherford and they are developing plans on how to evolve.'

Magnetic storms on Earth are caused by Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) on the sun, where large clouds of gas held in place by the sun's magnetic field are suddenly released.

When magnetic storms permeate the Earth's crust, the direct current can meet with the alternating current in the National grid and over power transformers, causing them to malfunction.

Prof Hapgood explained there is currently one possible defence.

'It sounds counter-intuitive, but actually the National Grid could switch on the whole grid, to block the effect of extra currents.

'At the moment we rely on one American aircraft called ACE which measures the speed of solar flares, plasma coming towards Earth, and its speed and density, but even that can only give a 20 minute warning.'

Prof Hapgood warned that even though next year would bring a peak of solar activity, the Earth is always under threat. 

'Next year is a peak in activity. However, we can't find a link between these peaks and the major events like CMEs. You shouldn't breath a sigh of relief and think you are safe, this is a constant risk.'

Experts are warning that the Government must make contingency plans for the solar storm which could create severe water and food shortages.

In 1859 the so-called 'Carrington event' was a magnetic storm that struck Earth - long before the Internet and GPS - and caused the failure of telegraph systems all over Europe and North America. The Northern Lights were reportedly seen as far south as Florida.

In 2009 a report funded by NASA claimed similar storms today would lead to 'planetary disaster.'

The study outlined the devastating impact it would have. For instance it could leave half of the US without power within 90 seconds, without coal after 30 days and would take the country a decade to recover.

Such a scenario would also cost an estimated £1.5trillion - and that would just be in the first year.

Prof Hapgood told the New Scientist magazine in 2009 that 'I don't think the report is scaremongering. This is a fair and balanced report.'

The flare emitted during the Carrington event in 1859 travelled so fast it took less than 15 minutes to reach Earth anyway.

The report's chief author Daniel Baker from the University of Colorado said he hoped it would push decision-makers into action.

'It takes a lot of effort to educate policy-makers, and that is especially true with these low-frequency events. But we are moving closer and closer to the edge of a possible disaster', he said.

Unlike many recent natural disasters, a huge solar flare would cause the greatest suffering in developed countries.

Plasma balls blasting out from the surface of the sun could wipe out our modern electricity grids, which would draw the energy to them like antennas and quickly overload.

This would have a knock on effect on many of the systems that support our lives, including water and sewage treatment, medicine cooling, supermarket delivery, power station controls and financial markets.

To rebuild the grid, the melted transformer hubs would need to be replaced but new ones take up to a year to make to order.

At present NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) is the most important indicator of incoming space weather. It can give 15 to 45 minutes warning of geomagnetic storms and power companies need 15 minutes to prepare systems for a critical event.

However, ACE is 14 years old and already operating beyond its planned lifespan with no planned replacement.

Prof Hapgood said 'We will largely lose the early warning capability' (Daily Mail, 2012).

Title: Doomsday Device: Russian Beacon To Track Menacing Asteroid Apophis
October 8, 2012

Russia’s space agency wants to send a mission to Apophis, the notorious asteroid which may change its course and eventually collide with Earth. It will plant a radio beacon, which will help track the celestial body and assess the risks it poses.

­The 300-meter-wide asteroid first made headlines in 2004, when NASA reported that it has 1 chance in 223 of impacting on our planet in 2029. It was even named after the Ancient Egyptian evil god, archenemy of the sun god Ra.

But additional observations proved that it will pass by at the small, but safe, distance of some 36,000 kilometers from Earth. The close approach however may result in an unpredictable gravitational pull on Apophis, which would change its course and pose a danger in 2036, when it comes back.

To better assess the risks it poses to the civilization the Roscosmos plans a robotic mission to the asteroid, chief Vladimir Popovkin announced on Monday.

The plan is “to land a module on the surface of Apophis and set up a radio beacon there, which will work after the spaceship’s lifetime expires,” he said at the Space Research Institute in Moscow.

The beacon signal will allow astronomers to better calculate Apophis’ movement and the effect of the 2029 Earth flyby. The mission would not be launched before 2020.

Popovkin, who was speaking at a solar system exploration conference, outlined other mid-term plans Roscosmos has. These include a Venus orbiter between 2020 and 2025, which will study the planet’s hot and dense atmosphere. The mission may include a descending probe, although due to the harsh environment it would only work for about one day on the surface.

Another target is Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. Roscosmos plans to send a spacecraft there in 2022 and is currently negotiating with its European counterpart ESA, which has a similar project, over a possible closer collaboration.

Russia also plans a new Mars mission. Popovkin said launching such a spacecraft is no less important after the embarrassing failure of Fobos-Grunt in November 2011. Now engineers will be able to learn from the mistakes of the original attempt to reach the Martian moon.

A more immediate plan is the Luna Glob mission to the Moon scheduled for late 2015. It would include returning a soil sample to Earth and studying it from an orbiter, which would change its altitude from the initial 100 kilometers down to 50 kilometers and later to 500 kilometers. The soil would later be studied for possible extraction of water from it.

“We will allocate our main effort and majority of resources to the moon,”
Popovkin said (RT, 2012).

Title: Paintballs May Deflect An Incoming Asteroid
October 26, 2012
MIT News

In the event that a giant asteroid is headed toward Earth, you’d better hope that it’s blindingly white. A pale asteroid would reflect sunlight — and over time, this bouncing of photons off its surface could create enough of a force to push the asteroid off its course.

How might one encourage such a deflection? The answer, according to an MIT graduate student: with a volley or two of space-launched paintballs.

Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, says if timed just right, pellets full of paint powder, launched in two rounds from a spacecraft at relatively close distance, would cover the front and back of an asteroid, more than doubling its reflectivity, or albedo. The initial force from the pellets would bump an asteroid off course; over time, the sun’s photons would deflect the asteroid even more.

Paek’s paper detailing this unconventional strategy won the 2012 Move an Asteroid Technical Paper Competition, sponsored by the United Nations’ Space Generation Advisory Council, which solicits creative solutions to space-related problems from students and young professionals. Paek presented his paper this month at the International Astronautical Congress in Naples, Italy.

The challenge put forth by this year’s U.N. competition was to identify novel solutions for safely deflecting a near-Earth object, such as an asteroid. Scientists have proposed a wide variety of methods to avoid an asteroid collision. Some proposals launch a projectile or spacecraft to collide with an incoming asteroid; the European Space Agency is currently investigating such a mission.

Other methods have included detonating a nuclear bomb near an asteroid or equipping spacecraft as “gravity tractors,” using a craft’s gravitational field to pull an asteroid off its path.

Paek’s paintball strategy builds on a solution submitted by last year’s competition winner, who proposed deflecting an asteroid with a cloud of solid pellets. Paek came up with a similar proposal, adding paint to the pellets to take advantage of solar radiation pressure — the force exerted on objects by the sun’s photons. Researchers have observed that pressure from sunlight can alter the orbits of geosynchronous satellites, while others have proposed equipping spacecraft with sails to catch solar radiation, much like a sailboat catches wind.

In his proposal, Paek used the asteroid Apophis as a theoretical test case. According to astronomical observations, this 27-gigaton rock may come close to Earth in 2029, and then again in 2036. Paek determined that five tons of paint would be required to cover the massive asteroid, which has a diameter of 1,480 feet. He used the asteroid’s period of rotation to determine the timing of pellets, launching a first round to cover the front of the asteroid, and firing a second round once the asteroid’s backside is exposed. As the pellets hit the asteroid’s surface, they would burst apart, splattering the space rock with a fine, five-micrometer-layer of paint.

From his calculations, Paek estimates that it would take up to 20 years for the cumulative effect of solar radiation pressure to successfully pull the asteroid off its Earthbound trajectory. He says launching pellets with traditional rockets may not be an ideal option, as the violent takeoff may rupture the payload. Instead, he envisions paintballs may be made in space, in ports such as the International Space Station, where a spacecraft could then pick up a couple of rounds of pellets to deliver to the asteroid.

Paek adds that paint isn’t the only substance that such pellets might hold. For instance, the capsules could be filled with aerosols that, when fired at an asteroid, “impart air drag on the incoming asteroid to slow it down,” Paek says. “Or you could just paint the asteroid so you can track it more easily with telescopes on Earth. So there are other uses for this method.”

Lindley Johnson, program manager for NASA’s Near Earth Objects Observation Program, says Paek’s proposal is “an innovative variation” on a method used by others to capitalize on solar radiation pressure. For example, MESSENGER, a spacecraft orbiting Mercury, is equipped with solar sails that propel the craft with solar radiation pressure, reducing the fuel needed to power it.

“It is very important that we develop and test a few deflection techniques sufficiently so that we know we have a viable ‘toolbox’ of deflection capabilities to implement when we inevitably discover an asteroid on an impact trajectory,” Johnson says.

William Ailor, principal engineer for Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif., adds that the potential for an asteroid collision is a long-term challenge for scientists and engineers.

“These types of analyses are really timely because this is a problem we’ll have basically forever,” Ailor says. “It’s nice that we’re getting young people thinking about it in detail, and I really applaud that” (MIT News, 2012).

Title: Phew! Asteroid To Miss Earth In 2040, NASA Says
Date: December 24, 2012

Abstract: On a day when global doomsday predictions failed to pan out, NASA had more good news for the Earth: An asteroid feared to be on a collision course with our planet no longer poses a threat.

Uncertainties about the orbit of the asteroid, known as 2011 AG5, previously allowed for a less than a 1% chance it would hit the Earth in February 2040, NASA said.

To narrow down the asteroid's future course, NASA put out a call for more observation. Astronomers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa took up the task and managed to observe the asteroid over several days in October.

"An analysis of the new data conducted by NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shows that the risk of collision in 2040 has been eliminated," NASA declared Friday.

The new observations, made with the Gemini 8-meter telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, reduce the orbit uncertainties by more than a factor of 60. That means the Earth's position in February 2040 is not in range of the asteroid's possible future paths.

The asteroid, which is 140 meters (460 feet) in diameter, will get no closer to Earth than 890,000 kilometers (553,000 miles), or more than twice the distance to the moon, NASA said.

A collision with Earth would have released about 100 megatons of energy, several thousand times more powerful than the atomic bombs that ended World War II, according to the Gemini Observatory.

Observing the asteroid wasn't easy, said David Tholen, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.

The asteroid's position was very close to the sun, so astronomers had to observe it when the sky was dark. Tholen told CNN there was about a half-hour between when the asteroid got high enough in the sky for the telescope to point at it and before the sky became too light to observe it.

Because the astronomers were looking at the asteroid low in the sky, they were viewing it through a lot of atmosphere, which scattered some of the light and made the object fainter, he said.

"The second effect is the turbulence of the atmosphere makes things fainter," Tholen said. "We had to keep trying over and over until we got one of those nights when the atmosphere was calm."

Tholen and the team also discovered the asteroid is elongated, so that as it rotates, its brightness changes. That was another challenge for the astronomers: Because they didn't know the asteroid's rotation period, they didn't know when it would wax and wane, and when it would grow too faint to see.

"This object was changing its brightness by a factor of three or four -- it was just enormously variable," Tholen said. "It was hit and miss depending on which night you observed it."

Many predicted the end of the world would come Friday, the day on which a long phase in the ancient Mayan calendar came to an end. Some believe the day actually comes Sunday.

Modern-day Mayans say the end of the calendar phase doesn't mean the end of the world -- just the end of an era, and the start of a new one (CNN, 2012).

Title: Space Alert: Hazardous Asteroid Nears Earth
Date: January 19, 2013

Abstract: All eyes are set at the skies as a big hazardous asteroid is nearing Earth. According to scientists there is an actual possibility that the 300-meter-wide Apophis will eventually strike our planet, but the catastrophe is not imminent.

On Wednesday the dangerous space traveler is passing Earth at 14 million km – the distance which raises no concerns. Apophis near approach, which may have been observed around 00:00 GMT, was traced by Slooh Space Camera.

The asteroid is planning a series of come backs of which the one in 2036 is said to be most threatening.

Named after the Ancient Egyptian evil demon, Apophis was discovered in 2004. The initial estimations indicated the probability that in 2029 the asteroid would strike Earth. However, additional calculations lessened this possibility and postponed it till 2036.

According to NASA scientists in 2029 Apophis may pass through a gravitational keyhole which would change his orbit causing imminent collision with Earth in 2036.

Russian scientists are planning to plant the asteroid with a radio beacon to trace its orbit and the risks Apophis pose to our planet. But the mission will only take place after 2020.

According to NASA calculations if the hazardous asteroid collides with Earth the effect will be equivalent to an explosion of 510 megatons of TNT, which is roughly 10 times more than the effect of the biggest hydrogen bomb ever exploded.

The effect would vary depending on the angle. The collision would cause massive destruction across thousands of square miles, however would not bring any long-term global consequences.

In May 2012 NASA released report revealed that there are about 4,700 asteroids of 100 meters diameter and larger representing significant threat to Earth with only one third of them located and the rest under the radar (RT, 2013).

Title: Don't Count 'Doomsday Asteroid' Out Yet
Date: January 24, 2013

Abstract: Look up at our nearest neighbor, the moon, and you'll see stark evidence of the dangerous neighborhood we live in. The Man in the Moon was sculpted by large-scale events, including many meteor and asteroid impacts.

In 1994, the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 dove into Jupiter. The result was awesome. The impact caused a brilliant flash, visible in Earth telescopes, and left an ugly dark scar on Jupiter's cold, gaseous surface.

With the recent fly-by of a 1,000-foot-wide asteroid labeled 99942 Apophis, one of a class of space rocks referred to as "near-Earth objects" or "Earth-grazers," scientists have revised their worst estimates of its chances of striking Earth. Current thinking is: We're safe. For the next couple of decades.

But this does not mean the danger is over. Far from it.

Named after the evil Egyptian serpent god Apophis, lord of chaos and darkness -- and recently dubbed the "doomsday asteroid" -- it flies past Earth every seven years. This year, its 1,000-foot bulk approached to within 9 million miles. In 2029, it will swoop in close enough to put some of our orbiting satellites in peril -- 20,000 miles. In that year, no doubt Apophis will arouse even more attention, because it will be visible in the daytime sky. In 2036, it will probably pass by at a reassuring 14 million miles.

Yet there's always a possibility we don't have these measurements exactly right. Something could happen at any point in Apophis' orbit to modify its course, just a smidgen. A tiny collision with another object, way out beyond Mars? What could change between now and 2029, or during any orbit thereafter?

Apophis masses at more than 20 million tons. If it hit Earth, the impact would unleash a blast the equivalent of over a billion tons of TNT. That's not an extinction event, but it could easily cause billions of deaths and months, if not years, of climate disruption.

The potential risk is huge. And Apophis is far from alone. Life in our solar system has always been dangerous. As kids we learn about the Barringer Crater in Arizona, a relatively recent formation -- 50,000 years old -- caused by a rock weighing several times more an aircraft carrier. That impact released the equivalent of 20 megatons of TNT and left a crater 4,000 feet wide.

Both Mars and Earth were long ago hit by planet-sized objects, one spinning off our Moon, the other shaping two distinctly different hemispheres on Mars. To this day, a steady rain of meteors falls on Earth -- some of them left-over pebbles and dust from worn-out comets, others from the "asteroid belt," still others from big strikes on the Moon and Mars.

Since oceans cover two-thirds of the Earth's surface, it's more likely debris will hit water than land. Scientists believe it was the blast of a 6-mile-wide asteroid off the coast of Mexico some 64 million years ago that changed Earth's weather for years and hastened the departure of the dinosaurs. Ocean hits are worse than land hits, not just because of immense tidal waves, but because of the vast quantities of super-heated water vapor and dust that spread from the impact to shroud the entire Earth.

In March 1966, J.E. Enever published his ground-breaking article, "Giant Meteor Impact," in the periodical Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact. Enever surveyed the available material on meteor and asteroid strikes, then published his own calculations and analysis of what such strikes could do, and have done, to the Earth, with cinematically vivid prose and equally terrifying physics.

He was the first to put it all together and publish in a respected and widely available forum. Although geology was still reluctant to admit to any form of "catastrophism," eschewing biblical explanations, many read and pondered ... seriously.

In the decades since Enever's article, writers, scientists, and engineers have proposed various ways to avert such disasters. Some have suggested we strap rocket motors to a threatening rock and nudge it away. A steady pulse of projectile "paintballs" could also do the trick.

Others have suggested we use nuclear weapons to "kick" an asteroid from its orbit, or even to shatter it into smaller debris -- a rather dim idea that misleads us into believing a single bullet is worse than the blast from a shotgun. Our atmosphere provides little protection against meteors larger than a truck.

Moreover, many asteroids are chunky masses of rock and dust loosely held together by very little gravity, like loosely packed peanut clusters. Attempting to attach a rocket to one of these might merely dislodge a few "peanuts," leaving the rest to do the dirty work.

Wrap one of these peanut clusters in a giant steel net, then drag it off its deadly course? Intriguing, but for now -- like deploying tractor beams from the starship Enterprise -- it's just so much super-science (CNN, 2013).

Title: An Asteroid Is Coming, And Scientists Are Excited. Fear Not, Earth Is Safe
Date: February 5, 2013

Abstract: It is heading toward Earth at 17,450 miles per hour, according to NASA, and the tug of our planet's gravitational field will cause it to accelerate when it gets here.

But it's not going to strike us, when it passes by on February 15. NASA is adamant about this.

"Its orbit is very well-known," said Dr. Don Yeomans, NASA specialist for near-Earth objects. "We know exactly where it's going to go, and it cannot hit the Earth."

But it will give the Blue Planet the closest shave by any object its size in known history, Yeomans said. Gravity will cause it to fly a curved path, tugging it closer to Earth's surface than most GPS or television satellites.

While the asteroid is moving at a good clip, space rockets have to accelerate to an even higher speed to escape Earth's gravity and make it into space. Though 2012 DA14 will be flying more slowly, its trajectory will keep it from falling to Earth.

Getting a look at 2012 DA14
Star gazers in Eastern Europe, Asia or Australia might be able to see it with binoculars or consumer telescopes. It will not be visible to the naked eye, because it's small, "about half the size of a football field," Yeomans said.

There are millions of asteroids in our solar system, and they come in all dimensions -- from the size of a beach ball to a large mountain, NASA said.

Researchers are looking forward to getting such a close look at an asteroid, as it flies from south to north past Earth, coming as close as 17,200 miles to our planet's surface. NASA will ping it with a signal from a satellite dish for a few days to get a better idea of its makeup.

Astronomers think there are about half a million asteroids the size this one near Earth, NASA said, but less than one percent have been detected.

Twenty years ago, no one would likely have discovered 2012 DA14, Yeomans said. Scientists spotted it nearly a year ago from an observatory in the south of Spain. Today, specialists track asteroids' paths 100 years into future.

They do so less to assess any possible threat of impact with Earth and more to explore what opportunities they offer. "These objects are important for science. They're important for our future resources," Yeomans said.

Opinion: Don't count 'doomsday asteroid' out yet

Asteroids are potential gold mines
Asteroids can be chock full of metals and other materials, which could be mined for use on earth or on space stations. NASA has discussed the possibility of capturing near-Earth asteroids and placing them into Earth's orbit to study them and extract their resources.

At least two start-up companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, plan to mine asteroids and sell the acquired bounty on Earth and in space.

Being able to exploit asteroids' resources would allow humans to fly farther out into the solar system, build stations a long way from Earth and supply them with materials gathered out in space.

Some asteroids, for example, are made of ice, NASA said, which could be used as drinking water for a distant space platform.

What if one like this did hit us?
An asteroid this size passes this close to Earth only every 40 years and collides with it only once every 1,200 years.

If NASA turns out to be wrong about this one not hitting the planet -- and they won't be -- then Asteroid 2012 DA14 would not destroy the world in any case, Yeomans said.

An asteroid made of metal that was about the same size collided with Earth 50,000 years ago, creating the mile wide "Meteor Crater" in Arizona and obliterating everything for 50 miles around, he said.

2012 DA14 is likely made of stone, which would do much less damage.

In 1908 a similar type asteroid entered the atmosphere and exploded over Tunguska, Russia, leveling trees over an area of 820 square miles -- about two thirds the size of Rhode Island.

Not Earth shattering, but you still wouldn't want to live nearby (CNN, 2013).

Title: A Solar 'Superstorm' Is Coming And We'll Only Get 30-Minute Warning
Date: February 7, 2013

Abstract: A solar "superstorm" could knock out Earth's communications satellites, cause dangerous power surges in the national grid and disrupt crucial navigation aids and aircraft avionics, a major report has found.

It is inevitable that an extreme solar storm – caused by the Sun ejecting billions of tonnes of highly-energetic matter travelling at a million miles an hour – will hit the Earth at some time in the near future, but it is impossible to predict more than about 30 minutes before it actually happens, a team of engineers has warned.

Solar superstorms are estimated to occur once every 100 or 200 years, with the last one hitting the Earth in 1859.

Although none has occurred in the space age, we are far more vulnerable now than a century ago because of the ubiquity of modern electronics, they said.

"The general consensus is that a solar superstorm is inevitable, a matter not of 'if' but 'when?'," says a report into extreme space weather by a group of experts at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London.

In the past half century, there have been a number of "near misses" when an explosive "coronal mass ejection" of energetic matter from the Sun has been flung into space, narrowly bypassing the Earth.

In 1989 a relatively minor solar storm knocked out several key electrical transformers in the Canadian national grid, causing major power blackouts.

Similar solar storms significantly increased atmospheric radiation levels in 1956, 1972, 1989 and 2003, the experts found.

Professor Paul Cannon, who chaired the academy's working group on solar storms, said that the Government should set up a space weather board to oversee measures aimed at minimising the impact of solar storms.

"A solar superstorm will be a challenge but not cataclysmic. The two challenges for government are the wide spectrum of technologies affected today and the emergence of unexpected vulnerabilities as technology evolves," he said.

"Our message is, 'Don't panic, but do prepare'. A solar superstorm will happen one day and we need to be ready for it.

"Many steps have already been taken to minimise the impact of solar storms on current technology… We anticipate that the UK can further minimise the impact," he added.

Minor solar storms hit the Earth on a regular basis, but these are far less powerful than the 1859 event named after the British astronomer Richard Carrington, which was the last true solar superstorm.

A similar event today would put severe strain the electricity grid, where transformers are particular vulnerable to power surges, as well as degrading the performance of satellites, GPS navigation, aviation and possibly the mobile phone network, particularly the new 4G network, which relies on GPS satellites for timing information.

"Satellites are certainly in the front line of a superstorm. They are part of our infrastructure and we have concerns about their survival in a solar superstorm," said Keith Ryden, a space engineer at Surrey University (Independent, 2013).

Title: Saving The Earth From Asteroids
Date: February 13, 2013

Abstract: For most of us, this Friday will be devoted to recovering from Valentine’s Day, or running to the store to buy a belated gift because you forgot that special day.

For Ed Lu, and anyone keeping up with space news recently, February 15 is significant for another reason.

The former NASA astronaut will be tracking 2012 DA14, a medium-sized asteroid expected to get so close to Earth that it will pass under all of the communications satellites orbiting our planet.

No one expects the asteroid to strike us, but Lu says it’s a warning that medium and large-sized asteroids are a threat to Earth.

Lu has devoted his life to tracking such asteroids, and he is working at launching a space telescope dedicated at finding, mapping and tracking asteroids that could harm the planet.

Lu spoke with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta about his mission. Catch a preview by clicking on the above video (part 1), and the one below (part 2). Watch the full interview Sunday at 2:30 pm ET on CNN’s The Next List (CNN, 2013).

Title: Asteroid Kind Of Headed Toward Earth
Date: February 15, 2013

Abstract: It's no Armageddon, but the planet will have a close encounter with an asteroid on Friday. Luckily it will miss the earth by about 17,200 miles. Still, that's considered close by many astronomers.

But how concerning is this event and what would happen if the unthinkable should occur? Dr. Bruce Betts of the Planetary Society, the world's largest space interest group, says this could be more common than most might think:

[3:15] "2012 DA14 [the Asteroid] is a close reminder that we do live in this cosmic shooting gallery."

According to NASA, 9,672 objects have been classified as Near Earth Objects. But Bill Nye the Science Guy says there are more out there. Nye is the CEO of the Planetary Society which provides grants to astronomers around the world to help find these asteroids:

[1:01] "We've been doing it over 15 years. The thing about this is that it takes a long time, it takes very diligent people to find these things. They're very small compared to, say, the earth. And they're like pieces of charcoal – they don't reflect very much light."

Although the timing of the asteroid fly by and the meteoric explosion that happened in Russia Friday morning is eerie, NASA says the two events are unrelated (CNN, 2013).

Title: Meteorite Hits Russian Urals: Fireball Explosion Wreaks Havoc, Up To 1,200 Injured
Date: February 15, 2013

Abstract: Russia’s Urals region has been rocked by a meteorite explosion in the stratosphere. The impact wave damaged several buildings, and blew out thousands of windows amid frigid winter weather. Hundreds have sought medical attention for minor injuries.

Around 1,200 people have sought medical attention in Chelyabinsk alone because of the disaster, the official website of regional governor Mikhail Yurevich reported. Over 50 of those injured have been hospitalized, two of whom are in critical condition. The number of injured includes 289 children, the website said. A 52-year-old woman who suffered a spinal fracture will be transported to Moscow for treatment.

Army units found three meteorite debris impact sites, two of which are in an area near Chebarkul Lake, west of Chelyabinsk. The third site was found some 80 kilometers further to the northwest, near the town of Zlatoust. One of the fragments that struck near Chebarkul left a crater six meters in diameter.

Servicemembers from the tank brigade that found the crater have confirmed that background radiation levels at the site are normal.

Experts working at the site of the impact told Lifenews tabloid that the fragment is most likely solid, and consists of rock and iron.

A local fisherman told police he found a large hole in the lake’s ice, which could be a result of a meteorite impact. The site was immediately sealed off by police, a search team is now waiting for divers to arrive and explore the bottom of the lake.

Samples of water taken from the lake have not revealed any excessive radioactivity or foreign material.

Russian space agency Roskosmos has confirmed the object that crashed in the Chelyabinsk region is a meteorite:

“According to preliminary estimates, this space object is of non-technogenic origin and qualifies as a meteorite. It was moving at a low trajectory with a speed of about 30 km/s.”

According to estimates by the Russian Academy of Sciences, the space object weighed about 10 tons before entering Earth’s atmosphere.

­A meteorite is a solid piece of debris from space objects such as asteroids or comets, ranging in size from tiny to gigantic.

When a meteorite falls on Earth, passing through the atmosphere causes it to heat up and emit a trail of light, forming a fireball known as a meteor, or shooting or falling star.

A bright flash was seen in the Chelyabinsk, Tyumen and Sverdlovsk regions, Russia’s Republic of Bashkiria and in northern Kazakhstan.

The Russian army has joined the rescue operation. Radiation, chemical and biological protection units have been put on high alert. Since the explosion occurred several kilometers above the Earth, a large ground area must be thoroughly checked for radiation and other threats.

According to preliminary reports, the worst damage on the ground in Chelyabinsk was at a zinc factory, the walls and roof of which were partially destroyed by an impact wave. The city's Internet and mobile service were reportedly interrupted because of the damage inflicted near the factory.

Chelyabinsk administration’s website said nearly 3,000 buildings were damaged to varying extents by the meteor shower in the city, including 34 medical facilities and 361 schools and kindergartens. The total amount of window glass shattered amounts to 100,000 square meters, the site said, citing city administration head Sergey Davydov. The ministry also said that no local power stations or civil aircraft were damaged by the meteorite shower, and that “all flights proceed according to schedule.”

Buildings were left without gas because facilities in the city had also been damaged, an Emergency Ministry spokesperson said, according to Russia 24 news channel.

The Emergency Ministry reported that 20,000 rescue workers are operating in the region. Three aircraft were deployed to survey the area and locate other possible impact locations.

The trail of a falling object is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, on February 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Oleg Kargopolov)

The regional Emergency Ministry denied  previous unconfirmed reports by local media that the meteorite was shot by  the military air defenses.

The local newspaper Znak reported the meteorite was intercepted by an air defense unit at the Urzhumka settlement near Chelyabinsk. Quoting a source in the military, it wrote a missile salvo blew the meteorite to pieces at an altitude of 20 kilometers.

Regnum news agency quoted a military source who claimed that the vapor condensation trail of the meteorite speaks to the fact that the meteorite was intercepted by air defenses.

Witnesses said the explosion was so loud that it seemed like an earthquake and thunder had struck at the same time, and that there were huge trails of smoke across the sky. Others reported seeing burning objects fall to earth.

A spokesperson for the Urals regional Emergency Ministry center claimed it sent out a mass SMS warning residents about a possible meteorite shower. However, eyewitnesses said they either never received it, or got the message after the explosion had occurred. The Emergency Ministry has since denied sending out the SMS warning, and said the spokesperson that spread the false information “will be fired.”

Classes for all Chelyabinsk schools have been canceled, mostly due to broken windows. Institute students have been dismissed until next Monday. Authorities also ordered all kindergartens with broken windows to return children to their families.

Police in the Chelyabinsk region are reportedly on high alert, and have begun ‘Operation Fortress’ in order to protect vital infrastructure.

Office buildings in downtown Chelyabinsk have been evacuated. An emergency message published on the website of the Chelyabinsk regional authority urged residents to pick up their children from school and remain at home if possible.

Those in Chelyabinsk who had their windows smashed are scrambling to cover the openings with anything available – the temperature in the city is currently -6°C.

Chelyabinsk regional governor Mikhail Yurevich said that preserving the city’s central heating system is authorities’ primary goal.

“Do not panic, this is an ordinary situation we can manage in a couple of days,” the governor said in and address to city residents.

Background radiation levels in Chelyabinsk remain unchanged, the Emergency Ministry reported.

Residents of the town of Emanzhilinsk, some 50 kilometers from Chelyabinsk, said they saw a flying object that suddenly burst into flames, broke apart and fell to earth, and that a black cloud had been seen hanging above the town. Witnesses in Chelyabinsk said the city’s air smells like gunpowder.

Many locals reported that the explosion rattled their houses and smashed windows. “This explosion, my ears popped, windows were smashed… phone doesn’t work,” Evgeniya Gabun wrote on Twitter.

“My window smashed, I am all shaking! Everybody says that a plane crashed,” Twitter user Katya Grechannikova reported.

“My windows were not smashed, but I first thought that my house is being dismantled, then I thought it was a UFO, and my eventual thought was an earthquake,” Bukreeva Olga wrote on Twitter.

The Mayak nuclear complex near the town of Ozersk was not affected by the incident, according to reports. Mayak, one of the world’s biggest nuclear facilities that used to house plutonium production reactors and a reprocessing plant, is located 72 kilometers northwest of Chelyabinsk.

NASA scientists said that the incident is not connected to  the approach of 2012 DA14, which measures 45 to 95 meters in diameter and will be passing by Earth tonight at around 19:25 GMT, at the record close distance of 27,000 kilometers.

Another Tunguska event?
The incident in Chelyabinsk bears a strong resemblance to the 1908 Tunguska event – an exceptionally powerful explosion in Siberia believed to have been caused by a fragment of a comet or meteor.

According to estimates, the energy of the Tunguska blast may have been as high as 50 megatons of TNT, equal to a nuclear explosion. Some 80 million trees were leveled over a 2,000-square-kilometer area. The Tunguska blast remains one of the most mysterious events in history, prompting a wide array of hypotheses on its cause, including a black hole passing through Earth and the wreck of an alien spacecraft.

It is believed that if the Tunguska event had happened 4 hours later, due to the rotation of the Earth it would have completely destroyed the city of Vyborg and significantly damaged St. Petersburg.  

When a similar, though less powerful, unexplained explosion happened in Brazil in 1930, it was named the ‘Brazilian Tunguska.’ The Tunguska event also prompted debate and research into preventing or mitigating asteroid impacts (RT, 2013).

Title: 5 Things About Friday's Space Events
Date: February 15, 2013

Abstract: About 1,000 people have been injured in Russia as the result of a meteor exploding in the air. The energy of the detonation appears to be equivalent to about 300 kilotons of TNT, said Margaret Campbell-Brown of the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario.

Meanwhile, an asteroid approached Earth but did not hit it Friday, coming closest at about 2:25 p.m. ET.

You probably have some questions about both of those events, so here's a brief overview:

1. Are these events connected?

The meteor in Russia and the asteroid that passed by on Friday afternoon are "completely unrelated," according to NASA. The trajectory of the meteor differs substantially from that of asteroid 2012 DA14, NASA said.

Estimates on the meteor's size are preliminary, but it appeared to be about one-third the size of 2012 DA14.

The term "asteroid" can also be used to describe the rock that exploded over Russia, according to the European Space Agency and NASA, although it was a relatively small one.

2. What's the difference between an asteroid and a meteorite and other space rocks?

According to NASA, here’s how you tell what kind of object is falling from the sky:

Asteroids are relatively small, inactive rocky bodies that orbit the sun.

Comets are also relatively small and have ice on them that can vaporize in sunlight. This process forms an atmosphere and dust and gas; you might also see a “tail’ of dust or gas.

Meteoroids are small particles from comets or asteroids, orbiting the sun.

Meteors are meteoroids that enter the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporize, also known as shooting stars.

Meteorites are meteoroids that actually land on the Earth’s surface. The pieces of the meteor that exploded in Russia are meteorites.

Generally meteorites are smaller than grains of sand and vaporize on passage through the atmosphere. But there are also larger meteorites.

Comets and asteroids are left over from when the solar system formed. There used to be more of them, but over time they’ve collided to form major planets, or they've got booted from the inner solar system to the Oort cloud or have been ejected from the solar system entirely.

3. Why didn't we see the Russian meteor coming?

Only one space rock that impacted the planet has ever been observed before it hit the Earth, Campbell-Brown said.

That's because objects that do hit the Earth tend to be smaller, and it's too hard to see them. The one sighting before impact happened in 2008, a day before a meteor exploded over Sudan.

Current estimates suggest that the Russian meteor was about 15 meters (49 feet) across, which is too small for telescopic surveys.

"Unfortunately the objects of this size have to be very close to Earth for us to be able to see them at all," Campbell-Brown said.

The asteroid that approached Earth Friday, which NASA has been tracking, is about 45 meters long, which is relatively small for an asteroid.

4. How does this compare to other Earth impacts?

The Earth picks up tons of meteoric debris every day, but big pieces are fairly uncommon, said David Dundee, astronomer at Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.

An object the size of the Russian meteor comes in about once every 50 years, but none has been recorded since 1908, when an asteroid exploded and leveled trees over an area of 820 square miles - about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island - in Tunguska, Russia.

"This is the largest event that we know of that's happened since Tunguska," Campbell-Brown said.

The Tunguska event did not leave a crater. If there are craters as a result of Friday's meteor, they would be very small, resulting from the debris from the midair explosion.

"It's unfortunate that this occurred over a populated area," Campbell-Brown said. Over a desert or ocean, it would have done very little damage.

This is much smaller than the event thought to have wiped out the dinosaur population, she said.

The meteor was moving through space at about 33,000 miles per hour. When it suddenly decelerated above Russia, the energy was converted into heat and sound, which resulted in a shock wave of energy and a sonic boom, Dundee said.

About three years ago, a woman in Cartersville, Georgia, discovered a baseball-sized meteorite in her home, which had flown straight through the roof. It is now at the Tellus Museum, Dundee said.

5. Why shouldn't you touch a meteorite?

As a meteor comes through the atmosphere, it gets very hot, but this thin hot layer quickly cools off. When you find it on the ground, a meteorite is generally acclimated to ambient temperature.

"We advise people not to touch things with their hands because we like to look for trace elements in the meteorites, and if you touch it in your hand, you've contaminated it," Campbell-Brown said.

Meteorites are probably not more radioactive than Earth rocks, and the minerals inside aren't toxic, she said. The biggest reason to not touch them is to preserve the scientific status (CNN, 2013).

Title: Meteor Shows Why It Is Crucial To Keep An Eye On The Sky
Date: February 15, 2013

Abstract: Reports coming from Russia suggest that hundreds of people have been injured by a meteor falling from space. The force of the fireball, which seems to have crashed into a lake near the town of Chebarkul in the Ural Mountains, roared through the sky early on Friday morning local time, blowing out windows and damaging buildings. This comes on the same day that astronomers and news reporters alike were turning their attention to a 40 meter asteroid -- known as 2012 DA14 -- which is due for a close approach with Earth on Friday evening. The asteroid will skirt around our planet, however, missing by some 27,000 kilometers (16,777 miles). Based on early reports, there is no reason to believe the two events are connected.

And yet it just goes to show how much space debris exists up there above our heads. It is easy to think of a serene solar system, with the eight planets quietly orbiting around the Sun and only a few moons for company. The reality is that we also share our cosmic neighborhood with millions of other, much smaller bodies: asteroids. Made of rock and metal, they range in size from a few meters across, up to the largest -- Ceres -- which is 1000 kilometers wide. They are left over rubble from the chaotic birth of our solar system around 5000 million years ago and, for the most part, are found in a "belt" between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. But some are known to move away from this region, either due to collisions with other asteroids or the gravitational pull of a planet. And that can bring them into close proximity to the Earth.

Once a piece of space-rock enters our atmosphere, it becomes known as a meteor. Traveling through the sky at a few kilometers per second, friction with the air can cause the meteor to break up into several pieces. Eyewitnesses have described seeing a burst of light and hearing loud, thunderous noises. This, too, is due to the object tearing through the gases above our heads. If any of the fragments make it to the ground, only then are they called meteorites.

Such events are rare, but not unprecedented. An object entered Earth's atmosphere in 1908 before breaking up over Siberia. The force of the explosion laid waste to a dense area of forest covering more than 2000 square kilometers. It is not hard to imagine the devastation of such an event over a more highly populated region. The Earth is sprinkled with around 170 craters also caused by debris falling from space. The largest is found near the town of Vredefort in South Africa. The impact of a much larger asteroid -- perhaps as big as 15 kilometers across -- is famously thought to have finished off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

It is easy to see why, then, that astronomers are keen to discover the position and trajectory of as many asteroids as possible. That way they can work out where they are heading and when, if at all, they might pose a threat to us on Earth. It is precisely this sort of work that led to the discovery of asteroid 2012 DA14 last February by a team of Spanish astronomers. However, today's meteor strike shows that it is not currently possible to pick up everything.

A non-profit foundation, led by former NASA astronaut Ed Lu, wants to send a dedicated asteroid-hunting telescope into space that can scan the solar system for any potential threats. For now, astronomers will use Friday's fly-by to bounce radar beams off 2012 DA14's surface, hoping to learn more about its motion and structure. One day this information could be used to help move an asteroid out of an Earth-impacting orbit. This latest meteor over Russia just goes to show how important such work is and how crucial it is that we keep our eye on the sky (CNN, 2013).

Title: NASA-Backed Meteor Tracking System On Horizon
Date: February 16, 2013
Fox News

Abstract: In the wake of the meteorite explosion over Russia’s Ural Mountains on Friday, a meteor tracking system could be on its way.

KHON in Honolulu reports that a professor at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy is developing what he calls an Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System.

“It struck me that there was this kind of hole, that this imminent impacter risk is real and it comes from very small things," said Dr. John Tonry said to the Fox affiliate. “It's gonna involve small telescopes about the size of a good garbage can, but very wide fields of view and the intent is to basically scan the whole sky a couple times a night and that makes it possible for things to sneak through.”

Tonry’s ATLAS project has also recently received funding to the tune of $5 million from NASA and will be developed to precisely detect when and where a meteorite would hit.

"We can say it will be exactly such and so a position to within a mile and it'll happen at exactly such and such a time within a second," Dr. Tonry said.

The meteorite that streaked across the Russian sky had exploded with the power of an atomic bomb with the sonic blast shattering countless windows and injuring over a 1,000 people.

The massive space rock was estimated to be about 10 tons and 49 feet wide and entered the Earth's atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 mph before shattering into pieces about 18-32 miles above the ground, the Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement on Friday (Fox News, 2013).

Title: While You Were Working: An Asteroid Just Flew By
Date: February 16, 2013

Abstract: It came closer ... closer ... and then it started heading away. But you may not have noticed at all.

An asteroid passed relatively close to Earth around 2:24 p.m. ET Friday. As scientists had been predicting all week, it did not hit.

An unrelated meteor entered the atmosphere over Russia on Friday, hours before the much larger asteroid's fly-by, injuring about 1,000 people. Scientists say that incident was a pure coincidence.

The larger asteroid, called 2012 DA14, never got closer than 17,100 miles to our planet's surface. Stargazers in Australia, Asia and Eastern Europe could see the asteroid with the aid of a telescope or binoculars. At the Gingin Observatory in Australia, the asteroid appeared as a bright white streak as viewers watched a live NASA video feed.

Scientists are studying this asteroid so extensively that they can already predict its path for most of the 21st century, said Paul Chodas of NASA's Near Earth Object team.

But it is only one of thousands of objects that are destined to one day enter our neighborhood in space.

"There are lots of asteroids that we're watching that we haven't yet ruled out an Earth impact (for), but all of them have an impact probability that is very, very low," Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at a press briefing.

The long and short of it
The asteroid is thought to be 45 meters -- about half a football field -- long. Current estimates suggest that the Russian meteor -- which was a tiny asteroid before it hit the Earth's atmosphere -- was only 15 meters wide, making it much harder to detect.

An object the size of asteroid 2012 DA14 appears to hit Earth about once every 1,200 years, Yeomans said.

"There really hasn't been a close approach that we know about for an object of this size," he added.

On its close approach to Earth, it was predicted the asteroid would be traveling at 7.8 kilometers per second, roughly eight times the speed of a bullet from a high-speed rifle, he said.

If it had hit our planet -- which was impossible -- it would have done so with the energy of 2.4 megatons of TNT, Yeomans said. This is comparable to the event in Tunguska, Russia, in 1908. That asteroid entered the atmosphere and exploded, leveling trees over an area of 820 square miles -- about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island. Like that rock, 2012 DA14 would likely not have left a crater.

What else is out there?
So, we knew that this particular asteroid wasn't going to hit us, but how about all of those other giant rocks floating nearby beyond our atmosphere?

NASA says 9,697 objects have been classified as near-Earth objects, or NEOs, as of February 12. Near-Earth objects are comets or asteroids in orbits that allow them to enter Earth's neighborhood.

There's an important distinction between these two types of objects: Comets are mostly water, ice and dust, while asteroids are mostly rock or metal. Both comets and asteroids have hit Earth in the past.

More than 1,300 near-Earth objects have been classified as potentially hazardous to Earth, meaning that someday they may come close or hit our home planet. NASA is monitoring these objects and updating their locations as new information comes in. Right now, scientists aren't warning of any imminent threats.

Yeomans and colleagues are using telescopes on the ground and in space to nail down the precise orbit of objects that might threaten Earth and predict whether the planet could be hit.

Observatories around the world send their findings to the NASA-funded Minor Planet Center, which keeps a database of all known asteroids and comets in our solar system.

NASA also has a space probe tracking asteroids to learn more about them. The Dawn probe was launched in 2007 and has already sent back dramatic pictures from the giant asteroid Vesta.

The spacecraft is now heading to the dwarf planet Ceres. Vesta and Ceres are the two most massive objects in the main asteroid belt.

Although scientists know a lot about the path of 2012 DA14, there are many undiscovered near-Earth objects still out there. It's possible that a flash of light and shaking of the ground would be the first indications that something happened. With the Russian meteor, for example, there was no warning.

Many teams of astronomers are using electronic cameras to find these near-Earth objects, but according to NASA, the entire effort consists of fewer than 100 people.

New asteroid adventure in 2016
A mission that's scheduled to launch in 2016 will teach scientists even more about asteroids.

OSIRIS-REx will visit an asteroid called 1999 RQ36, take a sample of at least 2.1 ounces and bring it back to Earth.

"This is going to be the largest sample of an extraterrestrial object returned to Earth since end of the Apollo missions over 40 years ago," said Edward Beshore, deputy principal investigator for the mission, who is based at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

The probe will arrive at the asteroid in 2018, study it, and then bring back the sample in 2023.

1999 RQ36 is made of materials "almost identical to those that were present when the solar system was formed about 4.5 billion years ago," Beshore said. That means studying this asteroid could yield greater understanding about the sources of organic molecules and water that gave rise to life.

Because the asteroid is among those cataloged as a near-Earth object, the mission would further clarify the threat that this particular object poses, and better predict the orbits of other near-Earth asteroids, Beshore said.

Scientists at the University of Arizona are collaborating with NASA and Lockheed Martin Space Systems on this mission.

To better predict the orbits of hazardous objects, the group is looking at the Yarkovsky effect, a force created when the asteroid absorbs sunlight and re-radiates it as heat.

The effect is, at first glance, quite small -- Beshore cited his colleague Steven Chesley's comparison of this effect to the force a person feels when holding grapes in a hand. But over time, it's an important consideration when trying to understand where an asteroid is headed.

"That force, applied over millions of years, can literally move mountains of rock around," Beshore said.

But -- and we can't say this enough: Don't panic over it (CNN, 2013).

Title: Kremlin Calls For Creation Of Global Star Wars-Style Missile Defense System To Save The World From Future Asteroid Strike
Date: February 17, 2013
Daily Mail

Abstract: The Kremlin is calling on the world's most powerful countries to urgently develop the technology and weapons systems to destroy asteroids and meteors that threaten Earth. 

Almost 1,200 people suffered injuries last week when an untracked lump of space rock exploded over the Urals, with the debris narrowly missing a direct and devastating hit on the industrial city of Chelyabinsk, with a population of 1.13 million. 

Hours later the closely-monitored asteroid 2012 DA14 buzzed the planet at a distance of only 17,200 miles, the closest ever known for an object of such size, equivalent to an Olympic swimming pool.

Russian officials called for nations to join forces to create an early warning system to prepare for asteroid threats

The Kremlin has called for a a joint effort to detect asteroids after the Urals region was struck by falling fragments

'Instead of fighting on Earth, people should be creating a joint system of asteroid defence,' demanded Alexei Pushkov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin and chairman of the Russian foreign affairs parliamentary committee. 

He urged the US, Russia and China to join forces to create an Anti-Asteroid Defence System, warning this was far more urgent that the American priority of a European-based star wars defence system aimed at deterring attacks from rogue states.

Deputy premier Dmitry Rogozin made clear Russia will lead an international drive for such a move.

'I have already spoken of the need for an international initiative aimed at creating an early warning system that would also prevent extraterrestrial objects from coming dangerously close to the Earth,' he said. 

'Humankind must create a system to identify and neutralize objects that pose a danger to the Earth.'

The disaster in the Urals - which led to damage to hundreds of buildings from a ten ton space fireball that had the force of a nuclear bomb - was a wake-up call to the world, which is not ready to cope with the threat, he warned.

'Russia and other major countries do have a system of space monitoring and control, but it is mainly geared towards monitoring instances when spacecraft may come dangerously close to space junk,' he said. 

The key task was 'not waiting for new incidents to happen but handling problems in advance'.

He called on international players to pull their efforts together instead of 'piling up military stuff in space, aimed only at lowering our planet's defences'. 

Rogozin expressed the hope this latest incident would make 'officials think of more important issues and look beyond the space horizon'.

There are some 1,300 space rocks on NASA's list of 'potentially hazardous asteroids' - yet many like the one that struck Chelyabinsk were not tracked in advance.

'Wake-up call': Experts said asteroid 2012 DA14 should drive nations to work together to create a warning system

The US-based B612 Foundation, which includes NASA veterans, said Friday's close encounters amount to a wake-up call.

'Of the million asteroids as large as or larger than 2012 DA14, we have only tracked less than 10,000,' said the organisation. 

Divers were yesterday scouring frozen Lake Chebarkul for remnants of the meteorite that struck on Friday with two monumental explosions, as 20,000 emergency workers cleared up the damage from broken glass, collapsed roofs and structural damage to buildings. 

Former Kremlin minister Alexander Pochinok called for a joint US, Russian and EU initiative. 

'We will clearly have a need to create near-earth stations, with stronger, advanced telescopes,' he said. 

'Perhaps the calculations might show us that we can even bring nuclear weapons into orbit. It is impossible to envisage it now. It is a matter of calculations, we need to figure out what needs to be done to detect such meteorites, asteroids, to forecast them coming, to change their trajectory, to destroy them. These are tasks for physics and engineering.'

Leading scientist Andrei Kokoshin stressed: 'It is high time to create a common international centre for monitoring and responding to natural threats from space.

'The UN should create a special committee within its structure to coordinate efforts' (Daily Mail, 2013)

Title: Russian Scientists Track Down Fragments Of Urals Meteor
Date: February 18, 2013

Abstract: What was in that meteor that exploded spectacularly over Russia's Urals region last week? Radioactive spores? Tiny Martians? Kryptonite?

Nope, just rock and a bit of iron, according to Russian scientists who tracked fragments of the meteor to the frozen surface of Lake Chebarkul.

Scientists from Urals Federal University found 53 small meteorites on the surface of the lake and believe a larger fragment is under water, said Viktor Grokhovsky, the scientist who led the effort.

The fragments point to a rocky meteor with about 10% iron mixed in, Grokhovsky told CNN.

The meteor exploded Friday in the air near Chelyabinsk, leaving behind nothing but meteorites, thousands of broken windows and some pretty spectacular video of it streaking across the sky before exploding in a noisy, luminous fireball.

The explosion startled residents going about their morning business and damaged more than 4,700 buildings, mostly apartments. About 3,500 had been repaired as of Monday, the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported.

About 1,000 people suffered injuries, mostly from flying glass. One woman was flown to Moscow for treatment of a spinal injury, state media reported.

State officials said 19 people remained hospitalized Monday, RIA Novosti reported.

Local officials have estimated the damage at more than 1 billion rubles ($33.2 million), RIA Novosti said. The state applied for 500 million rubles in aid from the federal government to help make repairs, the news service reported.

Chelyabinsk Gov. Mikhail Yurevich promised compensation to all those affected, the official Itar-Tass news agency said.

Police are also monitoring online auction sites and social media after reports of people trying to sell what they claim to be meteorites from Friday's explosion, RIA Novosti said. Some of the sellers are asking as much as $4,000 each, state-run RT television reported.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, said the meteor released nearly 500 kilotons of energy, about 33 times more than the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

NASA estimated the meteor's diameter at 55 feet (17 meters) and said it was the largest reported since 1908, when a meteor exploded over Tunguska in remote Siberia, destroying 80 million trees over an area of 820 square miles.

"We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years on average," Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said last week.

"When you have a fireball of this size, we would expect a large number of meteorites to reach the surface, and in this case there were probably some large ones."

The event was unrelated to the passage of another, larger asteroid some 17,100 miles from earth on Friday, according to scientists (CNN, 2013).

Title: NASA Scrambles For Better Asteroid Detection
Date: February 18, 2013
France 24

Abstract: NASA, universities and private groups in the US are working on asteroid warning systems that can detect objects from space like the one that struck Russia last week with a blinding flash and mighty boom.

But the US space agency reiterated that events like the one in the Urals, which shattered windows and injured nearly 1,000 people, are rare.

"We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years on average," said Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

NASA estimates that before entering the Earth's atmosphere above Russia, the asteroid measured 17 meters (56 feet) in diameter and weighed 10 tons.

Fragments of the asteroid caused an explosion equivalent to 500,000 tons of TNT when they hit.

The same day, a 45-meter in diameter asteroid known as 2012 14 whizzed harmlessly past the Earth, its passage overshadowed by the bright arc drawn across the Russian sky that same day.

But had it hit ground, 2012 DA14 could have obliterated a large city.

Ten years ago, NASA would not have been able to detect 2012 DA14, said Lindsey Johnson, near earth object (NEO) project manager at NASA said recently.

But he said NASA has made progress on learning how to detect small asteroids.

Johnson said there are many of these objects flying around near the Earth -- say, half a million -- and they are hard to track because of their small size.

In line with a goal set by Congress in 1998, NASA has already discovered and catalogued around 95 percent of the asteroids of a kilometer or more in diameter that are in the Earth's orbit around the sun and capable of causing mega-destruction.

The NEO program at NASA currently detects and tracks Earth-approaching asteroids and comets with land-based and orbiting telescopes. Scientists estimate their mass and orbit to gauge whether they pose a danger.

With this system, the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which has an antenna 305 meters in diameter, can observe with great sensitivity a third of the night sky and detect asteroids that are on the large side.

All asteroid observations made anywhere in the world by telescopes, even by amateur star gazers, must be passed on to the Minor Planet Center, which is financed by NASA and run by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory for the Paris-based International Astronomical Union.

But in times of tight budgets like these, NASA is trying to develop other systems specifically capable of tracking small objects in space.

It is financing to the tune of $5 million a project at the University of Hawaii called Atlas, or Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Alert System.

Researchers say ATLAS, which will monitor the entire visible sky every night, will be able to detect objects 45 meters (yards) in diameter a week before they hit our planet.

For those measuring 150 meters (yards) in diameter, the system -- which could be operational in late 2015 -- will give a three week heads up.

The goal is to find the objects and give enough advance warning for measures to be taken to protect people, said John Tonry, the principal investigator at ATLAS.

The system has enough sensitivity to detect a match flame in New York City when viewed from San Francisco, for instance.

"That's enough time to evacuate the area of people, take measures to protect buildings and other infrastructures and be alert to a tsunami danger generated by ocean impacts," according to the ATLAS website.

But NASA's efforts are deemed insufficient by former agency astronauts and scientists who last year launched a project designed to finance, build and launch the first private space telescope to track asteroids and protect humanity.

The foundation called B612 is trying to raise $450 million to build and deploy a space telescope that would be called Sentinel and placed in orbit around the sun, at a distance of 273 million kilometers from the Earth to detect most objects that are otherwise not visible (France 24, 2013).

Title: Crater Found In Iowa Points To Asteroid Break-Up 470 Million Years Ago
Date: February 19, 2013
Washington Post

Abstract: An asteroid as big as a city block smashed into what is now northern Iowa about 470 million years ago, says a Smithsonian geologist, supporting a theory that a giant space rock broke up and bombarded Earth just as early life began flourishing in the oceans.

The impact dug a crater nearly four miles wide that now lies beneath the town of Decorah, said Bevan French, one of the world’s foremost crater hunters and an adjunct scientist at the National Museum of Natural History.

FDA finds dozens of safety lapses at four large specialty pharmacies in surprise inspections.

The asteroid that carved it would have dwarfed the estimated 55-foot-wide space rock that exploded over southern Russia on Friday.

The Decorah object smashed into bedrock with such force that it shattered tiny grains of minerals. French found this “shock quartz” in gravel from beneath the town, he told two dozen colleagues during a seminar at the museum last week.

Finding impact craters is rare, as erosion and the shifting of tectonic plates tend to erase them. The Decorah crater, if accepted by other scientists, would be just the 184th known, according to an international database at the University of New Brunswick.

But spying the evidence of the Earth’s most dramatic explosions requires only humble equipment — a simple black microscope. As sun streamed into French’s office above Constitution Avenue one recent afternoon, he placed a glass slide under the microscope’s lens and invited a reporter to peer in. A thin slice of rock from beneath Decorah sat on the slide.

Three white circles — quartz crystals no bigger than mustard seeds — popped into view. Dozens of parallel lines striped each circle: evidence of a rock-crushing pulse.

“They’re shattered,” French said of the crystals. Geologists consider shock quartz near-definitive evidence of an extraterrestrial impact.

The Decorah crater lay undiscovered until now because almost none of it peeks above ground. Instead, it is filled by an unusual shale that formed after an ancient seaway sluiced into the crater, depositing sediment and an array of bizarre sea creatures that hardened into fossils, French said.

This shale was the first clue that certain Iowans may be unknowingly living in a crater.

Jean Young, an amateur geologist in northern Iowa, noticed the shale about a dozen years ago, when inspecting gravel pulled up by well-drilling machines. It looked like no other rock she had seen in the region.

Young sent samples to Robert McKay, a geologist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. McKay then pulled from his files “churn gravel” from dozens of other wells drilled in a four-township area centered on Decorah.

He found the same shale in some of the other samples, too. When plotted on a map, the shale-rich borings described a “nice circular basin” about 31 / 2-miles wide, neatly bisected by the Upper Iowa River and almost completely encompassing Decorah, he said.

McKay, French and other colleagues are preparing a scientific paper describing the discovery.

McKay and colleagues dubbed the black rock Winnesheik Shale and published a scientific paper describing it in 2006. But only after French recently identified the shock quartz — which was pulled from beneath the shale — did a giant impact seem more certain.

“They found what would be expected from an impact,” said Michael Velbel, a Michigan State University geologist, on sabbatical at the Smithsonian, who attended French’s talk last week. “It’s clear the shale fills a crater.”

Fossils in the shale — including eel-like conodonts, worms called verimforms, and shrimp-like creatures called eurypterids — date the crater to about 470 million years ago, McKay said. This geologic period, known as the Middle Ordovician, was marked by an explosion of early life in the oceans.

This period was also marred by an apparent uptick in the number of asteroid impacts on Earth. About a dozen of the planet’s known impact craters hail from that time.

In 2004, astronomers including Birger Schmitz of the University of Lund, Sweden, proposed a shocking explanation: A massive collision in the asteroid belt beyond Mars about 469 million years ago bombarded Earth with asteroid fragments. Supporting this idea: About 20 percent of all meteorites on Earth — known as “L-chondrites” — date from this period. They appear so similar as to have broken off from the same parent body.

The Decorah crater may have been formed by one such fragment, French said. Even more intriguingly, this newfound crater lies on a line between two other impacts of roughly the same age: the Rock Elm crater in Wisconsin and the Ames crater in Oklahoma.

A single giant asteroid may have flown in from the south, shattered and left a pockmarked trail of smoldering craters strung along about 500 miles.

French labeled the possibility “stimulating speculation.”

But because dating techniques render it impossible to narrow down the age of the three craters to a single century — let alone a single day — that notion probably will remain in the realm of speculation.

“It’s certainly possible,” McKay said. “But trying to prove all three came down at the same time would be tough. I’m not exactly sure how we could do that” (Washington Post, 2013).

Title: A Meteor And Asteroid: 1 In 100 Million Odds
Date: February 19, 2013

Abstract: Friday was an extremely unusual day, astronomically speaking. Just as scientists were gearing up to witness an asteroid's closest ever approach to Earth in recorded history, a sizeable meteor exploded over Russia, causing thousands of injuries and major damage to buildings.

The asteroid, named DA14, came within 17,000 miles or so, as close as a telecommunication satellite in geosynchronous orbit. DA14 is quite a bit smaller than YU55, the asteroid that passed Earth in November 2011, but DA14 came more than 10 times closer.

These two rare events occurred the same day. Your inner mathematician and your inner prophet of the end times think they should be connected. But scientists say they are not. What gives?

First, some facts. Meteors are rocky bodies that enter the Earth's atmosphere. Some are leftover debris out of which planets like Earth are formed, while others are the remnants of shattered comets and asteroids. As long as their orbit intersects the Earth's orbit, these rocks can in principle impact the Earth.

Actually, this happens all the time, although usually the impacts occur in unpopulated regions since most of Earth is uninhabited. In fact, most meteors fall into the ocean simply because water covers two-thirds of the planet.

So we don't witness most meteor impacts. If one landed in New York City or Moscow, people would definitely notice. Fortunately, the odds are very much against hitting a densely populated region.

The meteor that fell Friday near Chelyabinsk, Russia, was pretty big, maybe 50 feet across. In 1908, a slightly larger meteor -- perhaps three times larger in diameter, or 27 times larger in mass -- flattened a thousand square miles of forest near Tunguska, Russia, downing some 80 million trees.

NASA scientists estimate that meteors as large as Friday's might hit the Earth every decade or two, while Tunguska-like events are estimated to occur once every 1,000 years.

The close fly-by of an asteroid like DA14, like the Tunguska meteor, is a once-in-1,000-years event. Asteroids are large, irregular, rocky bodies orbiting the Sun roughly between Mars and Jupiter. Many have impacted the Earth over its 4.5 billion-year history --as they have hit the moon, Mars and other planets -- leaving craters behind.

A particularly large asteroid -- roughly 300 times larger across than DA14 (and 30 million times its volume, and far more rare) -- created a planetary extinction event that did in dinosaurs 65 million years ago, allowing mammals to rise to their present-day prominence.

Using NASA's WISE infrared satellite, astronomers estimate there are about 5,000 known meteors that can impact the Earth with sizes of about 100 feet or larger -- that is, larger than the Chelyabinsk meteor. Smaller ones are fainter and thus harder to find.

It makes sense that smaller asteroids pass Earth more frequently and, on average, closer. That's because in nature, small things are more common than big things. So asteroids like YU55 are more rare than DA14, which in turn is more rare than the Chelyabinsk meteor. Because there are more DA14s filling interplanetary space than YU55s, a 50-foot asteroid can be found in a smaller volume of space, on average, and thus closer to Earth, than a 150-foot one. Now let's talk about coincidence. Mathematicians frame this issue in terms of probability -- that is, the likelihood that something will happen. A rare thing is unlikely, so we say it has a low probability of occurring.

Two rare events happening at approximately the same time is much more unlikely. Here is how to think of it mathematically: If the events are not associated, the probability of this coincidence comes from multiplying the individual probabilities.

For example, the probability that your birthday is on a given date -- say, January 1 -- is 1/365. That is, of every 365 readers of this article, roughly one will have a birthday on January 1.

Now, the probability that the next reader's birthday is also on January 1 is 1/365 times 1/365, or about 1 in 130,000. If that many people read the article, such a coincidence could happen. Of course, it's much more likely that two non-consecutive readers will have a birthday on January 1. And it's very likely that lots of readers have the same birthday as other readers. (In fact, in any group of 23 or more people, it is more than 50% likely that two will share a birthday, but calculating that probability is a bit more complicated.)

Back to the meteor and the asteroid. Both events happening within one day makes us think they could be connected. That instinct comes from doing the math -- if it is improbable, then we think it cannot be a coincidence.

But the facts don't support this conclusion. First of all, in the time between the two events, the Earth moved roughly 300,000 miles, meaning the asteroid and the meteor were in completely different places. Moreover, they traveled in completely different directions, so they couldn't have been associated.

So there is no way the meteor and the asteroid are connected. It has to be a coincidence that the two events happened on the same day. Yet this would seem to be at odds with our instinct that two very rare things would not happen at the same time.
How can we reconcile these two opposite thoughts: the impossibility of an association based on the physics of trajectories, and the improbability of coincidence (lack of association) that the math suggests?

The answer is that we need to rethink the probability calculation. If asteroids as big as DA14 pass close to Earth once every decade or two, and meteors as large as the Chelyabinsk one impact once every 100 years (a similar meteor having caused the Tunguska event in 1908), the chance of both events happening on any one day are indeed very small: 1 in 3,650 days times 1 in 36,500 days, or about 1 in 100 million -- not odds you would bet against.

But think again: The Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years -- which is 1.6 trillion days. So the chance that these two events would happen on a day sometime in the earth's history is actually larger than we first thought -- it ought to have happened about 12,000 times already.

Of course, during most of that 4.5 billion year history, the earth was not populated by intelligent life -- human beings who might have noticed the two events happening on the same day.

So what is the probability that the meteor hits and the asteroid passes Earth on the same day when someone could record it on video? That's probably been possible for about 50 years, or only about five years if we have to do it on a smartphone or dashboard camera. That's 1,825 days, which means the chance of someone filming the event is only about one in 70,000 -- and that's if people blanketed the Earth. Given how sparsely the Earth is populated, we should correct this number downward by a (large!) geographical factor. It's also unlikely that this event would happen within 3,000 miles of the Tunguska impact.

What to think? Our rough calculation says a large meteor impact on the same day as closest passage of the DA14 asteroid is really improbable. But it did happen. Something in our assumptions could be wrong. For example, the frequency of meteor impacts could be much larger and our estimates too low because we don't notice most of them.

Then again, maybe sometimes, long odds just pay off (CNN, 2013).

Title: After Meteor Blast In Russia, Laurel Lab Plans To Smack An Asteroid
Date: February 25, 2013
Washington Post

Abstract: A meteor blast over Russia is putting new focus on a transatlantic effort to crash a spacecraft into a far-flung asteroid in a bid to prove that incoming objects from space can be knocked from their path.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory are preparing a decade-long, $350 million project to propel a rocket into the asteroid Didymos as it passes close to Earth. If successful, it would be the first time an asteroid is knocked off course by human intervention.

“There is a science aspect to it and a planetary defense aspect to it,” Andy Cheng, the chief scientist of the physics laboratory in Laurel, said in an interview.

Cheng said he developed a plan for a lower-cost test for smacking an asteroid as a way to revive a shelved European effort. In a sign of the steep odds it faced, the initial European plan was called Don Quijote, named after the fictional Spanish knight who tussled with windmills he thought to be giants.

The conceptual study has support from NASA and the European Space Agency. They jointly published an initial plan for the project in May. If the plan goes forward, NASA would help Cheng’s group fund and launch “the impactor.” The ESA, which announced this month a call for research ideas on the mission, would launch a second spacecraft to assess the impact and its effect.

Defense of the planet against asteroids, a longtime focus of former astronauts, astronomers and amateur hobbyists, became the topic of worldwide discussions recently as the largest meteor to explode near Earth in a century blew out windows and injured 1,200 near the city of Chelyabinsk in central Russia, near the border with Kazakhstan.

The meteor blast over the Chelyabinsk region, which has a population of 3.6 million people, was the largest recorded since one flattened more than 800 square miles of Siberian forest in 1908.

The object entered the atmosphere at 9:20 a.m. local time Feb. 15, hours before an unrelated asteroid half the length of a football field hurtled past Earth.

The twin punch, which scientists said was coincidental, served as a warning that space continues to hold dangers for humankind. A space object, if it is big enough and hits in the right spot, could destroy a city or worse. Scientists blame an asteroid more than six miles in diameter for wiping out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Cheng describes his project as straightforward. Didymos, Greek for “twin,” is actually two asteroids in one: a larger object with a smaller, moonlike rock circling it. And it is predicted to pass 6.5 million miles from Earth in 2022.

In 2021, Cheng’s laboratory would launch a spacecraft into the path of the smaller of the two bodies, which is 492 feet in diameter. Cheng expects the collision to knock the smaller asteroid from its established path around the larger one, an impact that he said can be charted from high-powered telescopes on Earth.

By targeting the smaller member of the “binary system,” the mission would produce “an orbital deflection which is both larger and easier to measure” than if it hit an asteroid circling the sun, according to the ESA’s preliminary report last year.

“It is important to note that the target Didymos is not an Earth-crossing asteroid, and there is no prospect that the deflection experiment would create an impact hazard,” the agency said in its report, which Cheng helped draft.

Finding asteroids is not just about danger; it is also about research. Cheng said the second spacecraft would measure the crater caused by the crash and look for additional details about the composition and nature of the asteroid.

“You have to do something pretty spectacular to move it,” Cheng said (Washington Post, 2013).

Title: Canada To Launch Asteroid-Hunter Satellite
Date: February 25, 2013

Abstract: Canadian Space Agency is launching a satellite size of a large suitcase to track down dangerous asteroids passing nearby our planet. The recent meteor explosion above Russia’s Urals sparked hot debates on how to protect Earth from space threats.

The $12-million satellite weights a mere 65kg, but it will be searching space 24-hours a day for objects potentially dangerous to Earth. It is specially designed to disclose objects between Earth and the sun, previously undetectable from the ground because of the bright light of our star.

Named Near-Earth Object Space Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat), the satellite was jointly developed by Defense Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). NEOSSat will be launched together with three other Canadian-built satellites by an Indian rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India at 12:26 GMT on Monday.

The probe will be delivered to polar orbit 700km above the Earth’s surface, where atmospheric effects will not blur its 15-centimeter-wide telescope. NEOSSat will circle the globe every 100 minutes.

The telescope itself is the size usually used by amateur astronomers, but in space it will be much more sharp-sighted in the absence of atmosphere-scattered sunshine. It is fitted with an extended sunshade that enables the probe to search the cosmic space near the sun for asteroids.

Earth’s sentinel NEOSSat is actually multi-tasked. It can spot space objects intruding the terrestrial space - be they asteroids or man-made space junk, like decommissioned satellites - locating anything that travels on a trajectory possibly intersecting our planet’s orbit. NEOSSat also monitors the ever-growing number of orbiting satellites.

NEOSSat is expected to catalogue at least 50 per cent of previously undetected asteroids from one kilometer and greater within Earth’s orbit around the sun. The greater part of such asteroids has not been found yet.

Among the space bodies orbiting the sun is a group of elliptical-orbited asteroids called Atens and it troubles astronomers the most. The Chelyabinsk bolide that caused so much trouble in Russia’s Urals might have been an Aten asteroid.

The 500-kiloton explosion of an asteroid bolide above a 3.5 million city of Chelyabinsk in Russia’s Urals has become a good reminder that government just cannot sit idly until another – probably bigger - asteroid impact our planet.

After the Chelyabinsk explosion Russia’s Roscosmos space agency announced tender project of a national asteroid watch, Canadian scientists are elaborating methods to deorbit dangerous asteroids once they are tracked down and their orbit is proved to be threatening Earth.

NEOSSat is not the only satellite to be launched with the same Indian rocket booster.

Its payload includes a French-Indian ocean research satellite, a Canadian military satellite, two Canadian-Austrian BRIght Target Explorer (BRITE) nano-satellites with tiny telescopes, a small British satellite powered by a smartphone, and a CubeSat built by students in Denmark.

A research group from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory is preparing a $350 million project for the next decade to knock the asteroid Didymos off its orbit when it passes close to Earth. The project is set to become the first human attempt to change an orbit of a space body. The study is supported by NASA and the European Space Agency (RT, 2013)

Title: Where Exactly Did The Russian Meteor Come From?
Date: February 26, 2013
The Week

Abstract: I
t's been nearly two weeks since a blazing meteor suddenly appeared over Russia's Ural region, and exploded seconds later over the city of Chelyabinsk. The destruction it caused is well documented: $33 million in estimated damage, 1,500 injured, and zero fatalities — amazing, considering the fireball detonated with 30 times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

But where in heaven's name did the the thing come from to begin with?

Poring over crowd-sourced footage, researchers Jorge Zuluaga and Ignacio Ferrin from the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, were able to use "simple trigonometry to calculate the height, speed, and position of the rock as it fell to Earth," says BBC NewsMore importantly, the duo was able to find out where Russia's most famous meteor was likely born.

Using astronomy software developed by the U.S. Naval Observatory, Zuluaga and Ferrin gathered enough data to trace the meteoroid's origins in outer space. The information included the meteor's relative angle to the horizon, the shadows it cast, and video timestamps of the rock's screaming descent. 

Based on its trajectory and speed — zipping through the atmosphere at an estimated rate of 13 to 19 kilometers per second — the Russian meteor appears to have originated from the Apollo family of asteroids, which are "well-known near-Earth asteroids that cross the orbit of Earth," says Discovery News:

Around 5,200 Apollo asteroids are currently known, the largest being 1866 Sisyphus — a 10 kilometer-wide monster that was discovered in 1972. Large Apollos are identified as being a significant risk to our planet, so the Chelyabinsk meteoroid acted like an Apollo warning shot. [Discovery News]

According to Popular Science, the asteroid likely "spent about 4.5 billion years cruising around the solar system before its fiery arrival in Earth's atmosphere." At an estimated 10,000 tons, it was only a little larger than your average asteroid — at least before Earth's atmosphere caused much of it to burn up.

Dr. Stephen Lowry from the University of Kent, who wasn't involved in the study, says he agrees with Zuluaga and Ferrin's analysis. "It certainly looks like it was a member of the Apollo class of asteroids," Lowry told BBC News. "Its elliptical, low inclination orbit, indicates a solar system origin, most likely from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter" (The Week, 2013).

Title: Planet Of Sound: Meteor Blast Resonated Around Earth
Date: February 28, 2013

Abstract: The meteor that exploded over the steppes of southwestern Russia sent a low-frequency rumble bouncing through the Earth, giving scientists new clues about the biggest cosmic intruder in a century.

The big boom over Chelyabinsk on February 15 also produced a wave of sound thousands of times lower than a piano's middle C -- far below the range of human hearing, according to the international agency that watches for nuclear bomb tests. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization said that sound wave showed up on sensors from Greenland to Antarctica, making it the largest ever detected by its network.

Scientists then used that wave to calculate the size of the small asteroid that plunged to Earth, said Margaret Campbell-Brown, an astronomer at Canada's University of Western Ontario.

The duration of the wave -- about 32 seconds -- let scientists estimate the energy of the blast at between 450 and 500 kilotons, the size of about 30 early nuclear bombs

From there, Brown said, they could calculate the size of the fireball; and using an estimate of the meteor's speed from the numerous dashboard and mobile-phone cameras that captured the scene, it was "first-year physics" to figure out the approximate size and weight, she said.

The latest estimate is that the Chelyabinsk meteor was about 56 feet (17 meters) across, weighed more than 7,000 tons and was moving about 18 kilometers per second (40,000 mph) when it blew apart, she said.

"In terms of things we have observed, this is the largest since Tunguska," Brown said, referring to the suspected meteor that flattened a Siberian forest in 1908.

The nuclear test monitors pick up "infrasound", or low frequency, waves from about 20 meteors a year -- "if conditions are right, perhaps as small as a pea," she said.

Russian authorities say more than 1,500 people were hurt, mostly by flying glass, when the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded in spectacular fashion. Amateur video footage showed a bright white streak moving rapidly across the sky before exploding with an even brighter flash and a deafening bang.

Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, said scientists believe the object originated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It was the Apollo group of asteroids, which circle the sun in oblong orbits, that occasionally cross Earth's.

Cooke said scientists expect to study the Chelyabinsk event for months. But the dozens of fragments that have been found so far point to a fairly common, stony asteroid with traces of nickel and iron.

"The composition is not at all unusual as far as meteorites go," he said. "It was just very big" (CNN, 2013)

Title: Is Mars About To Get Hit? Warning Over Approaching Comet That Could Cause One Billion Megaton Blast
March 1, 2013
Daily Mail

Abstract: A comet hurtling into our solar system from deep space could next year score a direct and cataclysmic impact on Mars, astronomers say.

According to current calculations, comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is set for a near miss that will bring it within 23,000 miles of the surface of the Red Planet.

But the unpredictable nature of comet orbits, which can change as jet-like geysers of steam erupt from their surfaces as they near the Sun, means it could pass further away, or veer into a direct collision course.

Respected astronomer Phil Plait, author of Slate's Bad Astronomy blog, has calculated that even if the comet is just nine miles across - a low estimate - an impact with Mars would cause a one billion megaton explosion.

That, he says, is 25million times larger than the largest nuclear weapon ever tested on Earth.

Much more likely, however, is that the comet will just miss Mars, which will nevertheless mean that the planet will pass through the cloud of sublimating gas spewed from the visiting rock as it draws closer to the Sun.

Like asteroids, comets are large chunks of space rock that orbit around our solar system. Unlike asteroids, however, comets are packed with ice.

This ice is not necessarily just water, but also things like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide that on Earth we generally think of as gases, which in the chilly reaches of space are frozen inside the nucleus of the comet.

As the comet hurtles along its orbit closer to the Sun, these substances turn directly from solids to gases, often erupting from the comet through geyser-like vents.

At the moment, C/2013 A1 is over a billion kilometres from the Sun, somewhere past Jupiter, which means it is still very cold.

However, as it draws closer it will began to vent more gas, changing its path and surrounding the nucleus with a large fuzzy cloud known as a coma - which can be up to several hundred thousand kilometres across.

That means that the comet's coma - which is also filled with grit-like rubble from the comet itself - could be bigger than the distance the nucleus is predicted to miss Mars.

'If that does happen, it’ll be the gods’ own meteor shower for the Red Planet,' Plait writes.

It will also be interesting to see the effect of the grit shower on Mars's two lumpy, potato-shaped moons, Phobos and Demos, which would be peppered with grit as the comet streaks past.

And if the nucleus does hit Mars, the effect would be apocalyptic for the planet.

Estimates for the size of the comet's core range from nine to 30 miles across, and astronomers say it will be moving at a phenomenal speed of 120,000mph upon impact - giving it huge kinetic energy.

Such an impact would leave a scar on Mars hundreds of kilometres across, says Plait.

Even worse for Earth-based observers, it would almost certainly destroy all our probes in orbit around and on the surface of the planet.

'The ejecta would come screaming off the planet and sent every which way in orbit around Mars,' Plait writes. 'It would be like orbiting into a shotgun blast.'

Comet C/2013 A1 was first spotted on January 3, making it the first comet to be discovered this year.

Extrapolations of its orbit predict it will make its closest approach to Mars in October next year (Daily Mail, 2013).

Title: Welcome To The Year Of The Comet (We Hope)
Date: March 2, 2013

Abstract: First a meteor exploded over Russia, followed closely by an asteroid fly-by. Now, two comets are expected to put on a naked-eye spectacle for sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere.

Up first is Comet Pan-STARRS, which gets its funky name from the telescope credited with discovering it in June 2001: the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System in Hawaii.

The comet is already visible through telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere, and it should swing into view over the Northern Hemisphere beginning around March 8.

It's hard to predict exactly how bright Pan-STARRS will be, but you should be able to see it without binoculars or telescopes, said Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program. It should be about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.

"There is a chance that it will be a little brighter than this, but likewise, it might not get quite that bright," said Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab.

Part of the brightness will depend on how close Pan-STARRS gets to the sun. Comets are made up of water, ice, dust and other elements and minerals, all loosely packed together, Battams said. As a comet gets closer to the sun, the sun's heat causes these elements to melt, spewing out dust and gas in a brilliant tail.

"The closer it gets, the more intense the radiation and the more elements will be melted," he said.

Pan-STARRS is expected to get fairly close to the sun. That's bad news for the comet, but it could be a boon for sky watchers if the comet is brighter and easier to see.

Pan-STARRS also could fall apart and fizzle. But if it survives its sunbath, we should be able to see it low on the horizon in the western sky for a couple of weeks, Battams said.

"About half an hour after sunset would be a good time for people take a look," he said.

Here are some key dates:
March 5: Pan-STARRS will be closest to Earth;

March 10: The comet will pass closest to the sun;

March 12 and 13: The best dates to look for Pan-STARRS; it should emerge in the western sunset sky not far from the crescent moon.

Battams has these viewing tips:

1) Safety first: Don't try to look at the comet until the sun sets. Do not look at the sun using regular binoculars or telescopes. Ever! You'll burn up your eyes.

2) Comet Pan-STARRS will stay close to the horizon, so you'll need to get away from trees and buildings.

3) Look carefully! The sky will still be bright at dusk, which can make it hard to spot comets.

4) If the skies are clear, and you are away from city light pollution, you may be able to see the comet with your bare eyes. If not, use binoculars.

5) If you can't escape the city, try using binoculars.

Second chance to catch a comet
If your quest to see the first comet doesn't pan out -- get it? (OK, that's bad) -- we might get to see a better comet later in 2013: Comet ISON.

ISON was discovered by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok in September 2012. It's named after their night-sky survey program, the International Scientific Optical Network.

Some early comet prognosticators -- and reporters -- have tagged ISON "the Comet of Century." But Yeomans isn't buying it just yet. He remembers being duped by another comet with that same moniker. In 1973, Kohoutek was hyped, too, and it fizzled.

"Predicting the behavior of comets is like predicting the behavior of cats -- can't really be done," he said.

So here is the hype on ISON: On November 28, it is expected to dive into the sun's atmosphere. If it survives, it might glow as brightly as the moon and be briefly visible in daylight. Its tail might stretch far across the night sky.

Battams is optimistic, but he said we won't know until late summer what to expect from ISON.

"I'll be surprised if we don't have a bright comet this fall and/or winter, but it's still just too early to speculate," he said.

So, like Pan-STARRS, ISON's fate will be decided by the sun. It could burn brightly and earn that "Comet of the Century" title; it could melt or it could just break apart.

Scientists say neither comet poses any threat to Earth, but if both comets hold together, sky watchers will get a rare treat: two comets, both bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, in one year.

Fingers crossed! (CNN, 2013)

Title: Asteroid To Fly Past Earth This Weekend
Date: March 7, 2013

Abstract: (An asteroid the size of a city block will pass by Earth this weekend, but have no fear: There's no danger of it hitting our planet.

The 80-meter (262 feet) wide asteroid makes its closest approach to Earth on Saturday afternoon in the United States. It will be about 975,000 kilometers (604,500 miles) away, said Don Yeomans, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. That's about 2 1/2 times the distance from the Earth to the moon.

"It's a pretty good size, but it's not getting that close, at least by recent standards," Yeomans said.

The asteroid was only discovered Sunday because search telescopes can't find objects of that size until they get close.

Now that it's in view, Yeomans said, astronomers can accurately chart its orbit. And they assure us this space rock will only make a fly-by.

The asteroid is already observable in the night sky, even with sophisticated amateur telescopes, he said. But get a good look at it now, because after the close approach, the asteroid will appear in the daytime sky and be harder to see, Yeomans said.

Dubbed 2013ET (which is simply code for when it was discovered), the asteroid is the latest object from space to come near our planet.

A meteor exploded over southwestern Russia last month, injuring more than 1,500 people, Russian authorities said. In what astronomers have said was an unrelated coincidence, a larger asteroid passed by Earth the same day, about 17,100 miles away at its closest.

This Friday, a comet called Pan-STARRS will come into view over the Northern Hemisphere. A second comet, called ISON, may be visible in November. Scientists say neither comet poses a threat to Earth (CNN, 2013).

Title: The Calm Before The Solar Storm? NASA Warns 'Something Unexpected Is Happening To The Sun'
Date: March 8, 2013
Daily Mail

Abstract: 'Something unexpected' is happening on the Sun, Nasa has warned.

This year was supposed to be the year of 'solar maximum,' the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. 

But as this image reveals, solar activity is relatively low.

Sunspot numbers are well below their values from 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent, as this image shows - despite Nasa forecasting major solar storms

Conventional wisdom holds that solar activity swings back and forth like a simple pendulum.

At one end of the cycle, there is a quiet time with few sunspots and flares.

At the other end, solar max brings high sunspot numbers and frequent solar storms.

It’s a regular rhythm that repeats every 11 years.

Reality is more complicated.

Astronomers have been counting sunspots for centuries, and they have seen that the solar cycle is not perfectly regular.

'Sunspot numbers are well below their values from 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent,' the space agency says.

The image above shows the Earth-facing surface of the Sun on February 28, 2013, as observed by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

It observed just a few small sunspots on an otherwise clean face, which is usually riddled with many spots during peak solar activity.

Experts have been baffled by the apparent lack of activity - with many wondering if NASA simply got it wrong.

However, Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center believes he has a different explanation.

'This is solar maximum,' he says.

'But it looks different from what we expected because it is double-peaked.'

'The last two solar maxima, around 1989 and 2001, had not one but two peaks.'

Solar activity went up, dipped, then rose again, performing a mini-cycle that lasted about two years, he said.

Researchers have recently captured massive sunspots on the solar surface - and believed we should have seen more

The same thing could be happening now, as sunspot counts jumped in 2011 and dipped in 2012, he believes.

Pesnell expects them to rebound in 2013: 'I am comfortable in saying that another peak will happen in 2013 and possibly last into 2014.'

He spotted a similarity between Solar Cycle 24 and Solar Cycle 14, which had a double-peak during the first decade of the 20th century.

If the two cycles are twins, 'it would mean one peak in late 2013 and another in 2015' (Daily Mail, 2013).

Title: Russia Considers Nuclear Explosives To Combat Meteorites
Date: March 12, 2013

Abstract: Russia is considering proposals to establish nuclear explosives in space to combat meteorites. Scientists are assessing the possibility of such a preventative measure, after hundreds were injured in the Chelyabinsk region during a meteor shower last month. Oleg Shubin, director of the state nuclear agency Rosatom, claims such an undertaking could take about a year to implement (Guardian, 2013).

Title: Comet Pan-STARRS Near the Moon Tonight: How To See It
Date: March 12, 2013

Abstract: Many stargazers attempting to view the Comet Pan-STARRS on recent nights have been thwarted by the comet's low position in the western sky. But tonight (March 12), the thin crescent moon will lend a hand.

Over the past weekend countless observers across in North America and Europe tried — and for the most part failed — to see Comet Pan-STARRS, in part due to its low altitude above the west-northwest horizon. The bright glare of the evening twilight sky just is also a hurdle, since it can as make the comet harder to see just after sunset.

But fret not, comet lovers! Weather permitting, observing conditions will improve by this evening, since Comet Pan-STARR's position above the horizon will be noticeably higher and the moon can be used as a benchmark to point your way.

Clear western view essential
The best suggestion I can make is for your Tuesday night comet watch is to first find an observing site with the least amount of any obstructions in the direction of the western part of the sky. [How to see the comet]

If you end up successfully catching a glimpse of them, the moon and the comet will not be any higher than 10 degrees above the horizon. That is about the size of your clenched held out at arm's length.

If you have a house or some trees in your line of sight, then you're going to have to find some other viewing site.

Step 1: Find the moon
In order to boost your chances of seeing Comet Pan-STARRS, be sure to arrive at your viewing site in time to see the sunset. Take note of where on the horizon the sun sets. 

Now wait about 30 minutes as the sky slowly begins to darken. Truthfully, it will still be rather bright looking toward the west a half hour after the sunset … this was one of the main problems people have had in recent days in trying to see the comet. 

However, first things first: Let's locate the moon. Take your clenched fist and measure off 10 degrees up from that point on the horizon where the sun disappeared about a half hour before.  Now look a bit to the right from the top of your fist. That's where the crescent moon will be. 

Seeing the moon will be a bit of a challenge in itself because it will be very narrow, appearing only about 28 hours after passing its new phase. Because of this, the lunar disk will be only 1-percent illuminated. It will be oriented with its bright sliver down, resembling a cup or a thin smile on the sky. 

 If you can't see the moon with your unaided eye, then use binoculars. Once you pick it up with binoculars you should be able to find it without optical aid. 

Finding Comet Pan-STARRS
With the moon found in the evening sky, it is time to use it as a guide to spot Comet Pan-STARRS.

The comet will be located about 5 degrees to the left of the moon. Once again, you might not initially see it with your eyes, so use binoculars if you need to. Five degrees measures roughly "half a fist" in length.

You'll know Comet Pan-STARRS when you see it. It will appear as a bright, star-like "head" with a short, stubby tail extending from the head upwards and slightly to the left from the bright end. Like the moon, once you find it with binoculars, you should, with time, be able to make it out against the bright twilight sky.  

Comet Pan-STARRS and the moon should be visible for about a half hour before they disappear into the murky haze always located near the horizon.

What is the coolest skywatching event to witness?

Comet Pan-STARRS was discovered in June 2011 by a team of astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (or PAN-STARRS), a telescope in Hawaii. The comet is officially designated as C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) and is thought to take more than 100 million years to make a single orbit around the sun. [Comet Pan-STARRS Explained (Infographic)]

Right now the brightness of Comet Pan-STARRS, according to viewers who spotted it in the Southern Hemisphere, ranks at about first-magnitude on the astronomy brightness scale. That is about as bright as the brightest stars. 

Normally, a comet as bright as this would be categorized as a "Great Comet ", but most observers feel that Pan-STARRS does not fall into this category because it's not visible against a fully dark sky. The bright twilight background is working against making it a prominent eye-catching sight. 

And the comet's dust tail is not breathtakingly long, but rather, short and rather stubby. To the naked eye, not much of the may be visible at all, though in big binoculars or small telescopes, some say that Pan-STARRS is a rather impressive sight.

Comet Pan-STARRS is one of at least three comets in the night sky currently thrilling stargazers. Another comet (the Comet Lemmon) is currently visible to observers in Southern Hemisphere, while the third object is Comet ISON.

Comet ISON is a promising celestial object that was discovered by amateur astronomers in 2012 and is expected to make its closest approach to the sun in late November. The comet will be only 800,000 miles (1.2 million km)from the sun at its closest point, and could put on a dazzling night sky spectacle. But it could also fizzle out, NASA scientists have said.

NASA astronomers and stargazers around the world are regularly tracking Comet ISON, as well as comets Pan-STARRS and Lemmon as they shine in the night sky (, 2013).

Title: Large Asteroid Heading To Earth? Pray, Says NASA
Date: March 19, 2013
Source: Reuters

Abstract: ASA chief Charles Bolden has advice on how to handle a large asteroid headed toward New York City: Pray.

That's about all the United States - or anyone for that matter - could do at this point about unknown asteroids and meteors that may be on a collision course with Earth, Bolden told lawmakers at a U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee hearing on Tuesday.

An asteroid estimated to be have been about 55 feet in diameter exploded on February 15 over Chelyabinsk, Russia, generating shock waves that shattered windows and damaged buildings. More than 1,500 people were injured.

Later that day, a larger, unrelated asteroid discovered last year passed about 17,200 miles from Earth, closer than the network of television and weather satellites that ring the planet.

The events "serve as evidence that we live in an active solar system with potentially hazardous objects passing through our neighborhood with surprising frequency," said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat.

"We were fortunate that the events of last month were simply an interesting coincidence rather than a catastrophe," said Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, who called the hearing to learn what is being done and how much money is needed to better protect the planet.

NASA has found and is tracking about 95 percent of the largest objects flying near Earth, those that are .62 miles or larger in diameter.

"An asteroid of that size, a kilometer or bigger, could plausibly end civilization," White House science advisor John Holdren told legislators at the same hearing.

But only about 10 percent of an estimated 10,000 potential "city-killer" asteroids, those with a diameter of about 165 feet have been found, Holdren added.

On average, objects of that size are estimated to hit Earth about once every 1,000 years.

"From the information we have, we don't know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States," Bolden said. "But if it's coming in three weeks, pray."

In addition to stepping up its monitoring efforts and building international partnerships, NASA is looking at developing technologies to divert an object that may be on a collision course with Earth.

"The odds of a near-Earth object strike causing massive casualties and destruction of infrastructure are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large it makes sense to takes the risk seriously," Holdren said.

About 66 million years ago, an object 6 miles in diameter is believed to have smashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, leading to the demise of the dinosaurs, as well as most plant and animal life on Earth.

The asteroid that exploded over Russia last month was the largest object to hit Earth's atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event when an asteroid or comet exploded over Siberia, leveling 80 million trees over more than 830 square miles (2,150 sq km) (Reuters, 2013).

NASA Lagging For A Decade On Meteor Tracking
Date: March 20, 2013
Source: IndicesMedia

Abstract: America’s top science official said that NASA has fallen behind by ten years in meeting a mandate laid by the Congress to detect potentially destructive meteors. They said that a space telescope is necessitated to improve tracking. The U.S agency’s leaders said that most globally catastrophic asteroids had been located and tracked and there is very little possibility of any impact over the next several centuries. It’s the smaller objects that are more difficult to track, make an appearance more often and are not as lethal as their larger counterparts.

Meteorite destruction
John Holdren, President Obama’s assistant for science and technology said that the unfortunate part was that the number of potential city destroying meteors was too large. He said that they are in the range of over 10,000. This issue became all the more relevant in light of the Feb 15 meteor blast that took place over Russia which had not been anticipated. Chelyabinsk, the remote Russian town which took the major impact of the largest meteor to have exploded near the earth since 1908, injured 1,200 people. It had been difficult to find as it came in from the direction of the sun.

The NASA administrator, Charles Bolden said that impacts such as this one will always be difficult to predict as they are caused by considerably smaller meteorites. He added that with the funding that the agency currently works under will not see the goal of predicting other meteorites in this size range, being met until 2030 (IndicesMedia, 2013).

Title: Thing And A Prayer: NASA Chief Says Earth Defenseless In Asteroid Strike
Date: March 20, 2013
Source: RT

Abstract: If an unknown large meteor or asteroid were on a collision course with Earth, NASA chief Charles Bolden told a US House of Representatives Science Committee hearing Tuesday, then praying is all America or anyone else could do.

Events in Russia last month have reignited concern about the threat civilization on Earth faces from asteroids.

On February 15, a meteoroid estimated to be about 17 meters in diameter exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk in central Russia. The shock waves from the explosion shattered windows and damaged buildings. More than 1,500 people were injured by flying glass and other debris caused by the shockwave.

“We were fortunate that the events of last month were simply an interesting coincidence rather than a catastrophe,” Lamar Smith (R. Texas), the Science Committee chairman, said. Smith called the hearing to find out what is being done and how much money will be needed to better protest the earth in future, Reuters reported.

Later on the same day, a larger, unrelated asteroid, which was discovered last year, passed 27,681km from Earth; closer than the television and weather satellites that surround the planet.

Both events, “serve as evidence that we live in an active solar system with potentially hazardous objects passing through our neighborhood with surprising frequency,” said Eddie Bernice Johnson (D. Texas).

NASA is tracking about 95 per cent of the largest objects flying near Earth.

But only about 10 per cent of an estimated 10,000 asteroids with a diameter of 50 meters (165 feet) or more have been found.

“An asteroid that size, a kilometer or bigger, could plausibly end civilization,” John Holdren, a White House science advisor, told legislators at the hearing.

About 66 million years ago an asteroid about 10km in diameter is believed to have hit what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, wiped out the dinosaurs as well as ancient birds and most plant and animal life.

While in 1908 a comet exploded over a largely uninhabited area of Siberia, flattening some 80 million trees.

As yet scientists have not identified an asteroid that could threaten the population of the United States.

"From the information we have, we don't know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States, but if it's coming in three weeks, pray,” Bolden said.

No one knew about the meteoroid that exploded above Chelyabinsk until it was too late.

“The odds of a near-Earth object strike causing massive casualties and destruction of infrastructure are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large it makes sense to take the risk seriously,” said Holdren.

NASA is stepping up its monitoring efforts and is building up international partnerships to develop technology to divert an object on a collision course with Earth.

Russia announced last week that it is developing a national defense to space threats, which will take shape by late 2013 and will take another five years until it is operational.

An inter-agency task force consisting of experts from the Defense Ministry, Academy of Sciences and national space agency [Roscosmos] has been formed into create a unified system of space threat prevention,” said Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos.

However, despite talk of developing cutting edge technology to intercept an asteroid, a nuclear warhead still remains the only way to protect against threats from space, explained Oleg Shubin, deputy director of the Department of Nuclear Munitions and Military Power Installations at Russia’s nuclear monopoly, Rosatom (RT, 2013).

Title: NASA Chief: Earth Is Doomed If We Spot A Big Asteroid At Short Notice
Date: March 21, 2013
Source: The Register

Abstract: Billions of dollars are needed to keep the Earth safe from asteroids like the one that smashed into Russia last month, experts have told the US government.
While NASA has made good progress cataloguing nearly 93 per cent of larger Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), smaller meteorites like the Chelyabinsk one - which was around 17m wide - can often slip through the net.

Experts met with the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to review the government's efforts to track and mitigate against asteroids and meteors, efforts that were acknowledged to be difficult under current budget restraints.

"The smaller they are, the harder they are to spot, and yet they can be life-threatening," congressman Lamar Smith, chair of the committee, said in opening remarks.

"NASA believes it has discovered 93 per cent of the largest asteroids in near-Earth orbit, those one kilometre or larger. But what about the other seven per cent remaining, about 70, or even those smaller than one kilometre, estimated to be in the thousands? An asteroid as small as 100 metres could destroy an entire city upon a direct hit. Are we tracking those?" he asked.

White House science adviser John Holdren said that funding for cataloguing potentially dangerous space rocks had risen from $5m to over $20m in the last few years.

But NASA administrator Charles Bolden reckons it will still take until 2030 to spot 90 per cent of the smaller NEOs between 140m and 1km at that level of funding, NBC News reported.

Smith said there was no way NASA was "going to somehow defy budget gravity and get an increase when everyone else is getting cuts", but said "we need to find ways to prioritise NASA's projects".

Holdren said that the most useful project to get going would be to put an infrared telescope in a Venus-like orbit to spot asteroids that can't be seen from the ground because they're lost in the Sun's glare. The Chelyabinsk meteorite was exactly that kind of meteor, which came in from a direction that Earthbound telescopes can't look in.

That telescope would cost $500m to $750m but it could reduce the time it takes to survey smaller space rocks by six to eight years, he said.

Bolden has already pointed out that the imminent automatic US spending cuts, known as sequestration, will affect NASA's plans and projects - including asteroid-hunting as well as plans to get a person on an asteroid by 2025.

"The president has a plan. But that plan is incremental," Bolden said. "And if we want to save the planet, because I think that’s what we’re talking about, then we have to get together ... and decide how we’re going to execute that plan."

The NASA chief did emphasise that the chance of space rocks like the Chelyabinsk meteorite entering the atmosphere were pretty rare, but he admitted to lawmakers that if a larger asteroid was threatening, it would take years of advance warning to do anything about it.

Congressman Bill Posey asked him what the strategy would be if a planet-threatening asteroid was discovered with three weeks' warning.

"If it's coming in three weeks ... pray," Bolden replied. "The reason I can't do anything in the next three weeks is because for decades we have put it off" (The Register, 2013).

Title: Asteroid-Smashing Space Probes Set For Cosmic Crash In 2022
Date: March 22, 2013

Abstract: Scientists in Europe and the United States are moving forward with plans to intentionally smash a spacecraft into a huge nearby asteroid in 2022 to see inside the space rock.

The ambitious European-led Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission, or AIDA, is slated to launch in 2019 to send two spacecraft — one built by scientists in the U.S, and the other by the European Space Agency — on a three-year voyage to the asteroid Didymos and its companion. Didymos has no chance of impacting the Earth, which makes it a great target for this kind of mission, scientists involved in the mission said in a presentation Tuesday (March 19) here at the 44th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Didymos is actually a binary asteroid system consisting of two separate space rocks bound together by gravity. The main asteroid is enormous, measuring 2,625 feet (800 meters) across. It is orbited by a smaller asteroid  about 490 feet (150 m).

The Didymos asteroid setup is an intriguing target for the AIDA mission because it will give scientists their first close look at a binary space rock system while also yielding new insights into ways to deflect dangerous asteroids that could pose an impact threat to the Earth. [Photos of Potentially Dangerous Asteroids]

"Binary systems are quite common," said Andy Rivkin, a scientist at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., working on the U.S. portion of AIDA project. "This will be our first rendezvous with a binary system."

In 2022, the Didymos asteroids will be about 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from the Earth, during a close approach, which is why AIDA scientists have timed their mission for that year.

Rivkin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory are building DART (short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test), one of the two spacecraft making up the tag team AIDA mission. Like its acronym suggests, the DART probe crash directly into the smaller Didymos asteroid while travelling at 14,000 mph (22,530 km/h), creating a crater during an impact that will hopefully sending the space rock slightly off course, Rivkin said.

Asteroids are fascinating for lots of reasons. They contain a variety of valuable resources and slam into our planet on a regular basis, occasionally snuffing out most of Earth's lifeforms. How much do you know about space rocks?

The European Space Agency is building the second AIDA spacecraft, which is called the Asteroid Impact Monitor (or AIM). AIM will observe the impact from a safe distance, and the probe's data will be used with other data collected by telescopes on Earth to understand exactly what the impact did to the asteroid.

"AIM is the usual shoebox satellite," ESA researcher Jens Biele,  who works on the AIM spacecraft, said. "It's nothing very fancy."

AIDA scientists hope their mission will push the smaller Didymos asteroid off course by only a few millimeters. The small space rock orbits the larger, primary Didymos asteroid once every 12 hours.

The goal, Rivkin said, is to use the DART impact as a testbed for the most basic method of asteroid deflection: a direct collision with a spacecraft.  If the mission is successful, it could have implications for how space agencies around the world learn how to deflect larger, more threatening asteroid that could pose a threat to Earth, he added.

At the moment, AIDA researchers are not sure of the exact composition of the Didymos asteroids. They could just be a loose conglomeration of rocks travelling together through the solar system, or made of much denser stuff.

But once DART impacts the asteroid, scientists will be able to measure how much the asteroid's orbit is affected as well as classify its surface composition, Rivkin said. And by studying how debris floats outward from the impact site after the crash, researchers could also better prepare for the conditions astronauts may encounter during future manned missions to asteroids — such as NASA's project to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, he added.

The AIDA mission's AIM space craft is expected to cost about 150 million euros (about $194 million), while the DART spacecraft is slated to cost about $150 million, mission officials said (, 2013).

Title: ‘Comet Of The Century’: NASA Captures New Photo Of Icy Wanderer Is On
March 31, 2013

Abstract: NASA spacecraft Swift has captured a photo of Comet ISON, potentially the brightest one the Earth will see in over half of century. The icy wanderer is expected to attract stargazers worldwide when it swings close to the sun later this year.

"Comet ISON has the potential to be among the brightest comets of the last 50 years, which gives us a rare opportunity to observe its changes in great detail and over an extended period," NASA’s official website quoted an astronomer with University of Maryland at College Park (UMCP), Dennis Bodewits, who helped obtain the new image.

The photo of Comet ISON was taken at the end of January, but NASA unveiled it two months later.

Comet ISON was first discovered in September 2012 by two Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonokm who used the International Scientific Optical Network located near the city of Kislovodsk. The comet's official designation is Comet C/2012 S1.

By tracking the celestial body over the last two months when scanning for the most powerful explosions in the universe, Swift allowed astronomers to learn new details about how large the comet is and how fast it is spewing out gas and dust. SWIFT’s purpose was to determine how much  ice is on the comet.

"Using images acquired over the last two months from Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT), the team has made initial estimates of the comet's water and dust production and used them to infer the size of its icy nucleus," NASA officials wrote in a statement.

NASA’s image of the comet shows it as a bright and fuzzy white ball. On January 29, ISON was about 670 million kilometers away from Earth and 740 million kilometers from the sun.

Some scientists predict that ISON could be the "Comet of the Century" as it makes its closest approach to the sun in late November. But a recent analysis found that the comet is not brightening as expected.

"It looks promising, but that's all we can say for sure now. Past comets have failed to live up to expectations once they reached the inner solar system, and only observations over the next few months will improve our knowledge of how ISON will perform," an astronomer at Lowell Observatory and a member of the Swift team, Matthew Knight, told NASA.

As NASA officials have explained, all comets are made of dust and frozen gases that mix together to form a sort of "dirty snowball" in space. Water ice in comets typically stays frozen until the comet approaches within three times the Earth's distance to the sun, at which time the water ice heats up and changes directly into gas (a process called sublimation), creating jets of material that can make the comet brighter.

Swift's observations revealed that Comet ISON is currently spilling about 51 tons of dust and only about 60 kilos of water every minute. The difference suggests that the comet is still too far away from the sun in order to show its full potential, scientists explain.

The main question: whether Comet ISON will live up to its celestial hype or fizzle out in a whimper? The answer is not yet known, but astronomers say it will become clear in the next few months.

On the first day of October 2013 the comet will pass within 10.8 million kilometers of Mars, and may be spotted by orbiters around the Red Planet. 

On November 28 — 58 days after swinging by Mars — Comet ISON will make its closest approach to the sun, flying within 1.2 million kilometers of the star's surface. Several sun-watching observatories will be tracking the comet at that time, and ISON may even become visible to the naked eye in the daytime sky, NASA officials claimed.

The comet will make its closest approach to Earth on December 26, coming with 64.2 million kilometers of the planet.

Comet Hale–Bopp (C/1995 O1) was one of the most widely observed comet of the 20th century and one of the brightest seen for many decades. It was visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months, twice as long as the previous record holder, the Great Comet of 1811(RT, 2013).

Title: April Fools’ Fly-By: Four Asteroids Flash Past Earth In One Day
April 1, 2013

Abstract: arth is experiencing an unusual cosmic bombardment as four large asteroids pass it in just one day. Fortunately astronomers don’t seem to joking when saying none are expected to pose danger.

The largest is 4034 Vishnu, which is 800 meters across – the length of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – though much greater in mass. In comparison, the Tunguska meteorite that devastated hundreds of miles of Siberian wilderness when it landed in 1908 was estimated to be no bigger than 100 meters. The asteroid that may have led to the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago may have been up to 10 kilometers across.

But 4034 Vushnu – which was discovered in 1986 – will pass nearly 23 million kilometers from the Earth’s surface. The closest of the four, EN 89, will be just over 5 million kilometers away from the planet. The asteroid was only discovered a fortnight ago.

Although in everyday terms, the asteroids, ancient cosmic bodies that did not form into planets, will be a distance away, they are still classed as Close Approaches by astronomers. In total several hundred of them happen each year, but it is unusual for so many passes to happen over the course of one day.

The closest large asteroid to pass Earth this year was the 50-meter DA14, which flew 27,600 kilometers from the surface in February. Remarkably on the same day, an asteroid of up to 20-meters penetrated the atmosphere and exploded over Chelyabinsk in Siberia.

On average, asteroids of that size enter the atmosphere every 10 years. Those such as the Yucatan meteor that may have ended the Mesozoic Era, are expected to impact the Earth once every 20 million years.

While, the paths of many asteroids can be charted centuries ahead (and could even be destroyed if they head for the Earth) many, like the Chelyabinsk Meteor, are not detected until they enter the atmosphere – rendering the planet potentially vulnerable to impacts millions of times more powerful than the worst nuclear explosions.

But, some are taking a more positive attitude to asteroids. Earlier this year, Astrorank, a company that evaluates the make-up of asteroids in view of future space mining operations, said that 4034 Vishnu – which is composed largely of platinum and nickel-iron – is worth around $40 trillion dollars, more than half of the world’s gross national product last year (RT, 2013).