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  1. With all the large asteroids hitting the news lately, it would have been easy for a small one to sneak under the radar. In fact, one very nearly did. On April 27, astronomers discovered a new asteroid, a little pixie of a space rock between 4 and 8 metres (13 to 26 feet) across. It was already close to Earth at this point, and the probability of a collision was calculated at around 10 percent. At its size, it would have burnt up on atmospheric entry, so it posed no threat to humans anyway. But the asteroid's trajectory would bring it very close to the geostationary ring, the volume of space around Earth in which bodies can maintain geostationary orbit. That space is packed with satellites. On April 28, this asteroid - later named 2020 HS7 - skimmed past Earth at a distance around nine times closer than the average distance of the Moon. At a distance of 42,735 kilometres (26,554 miles) from the centre of Earth - the Earth-Moon distance is 384,400 kilometres (238,855 miles) from centre to centre on average - 2020 HS7 pulled off one of the closest asteroid flybys we've ever seen. And it skimmed the nearest satellite by just 1,200 kilometres (746 miles). That may sound a bit scary, but neither we nor our satellites were in any particular danger. "Small asteroids like 2020 HS7 safely pass by Earth a few times per month," said astronomer Lindley Johnson of NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office just prior to the flyby. "It poses no threat to our planet." In fact, 2020 HS7 was a good thing. It allowed scientists to test their detection, observation, follow-up and prediction capabilities on a small near-Earth asteroid. And they showed they were able to predict and track the path of 2020 HS7 with incredible accuracy, even with just a day's notice. You may have been hearing about near-Earth asteroids a lot recently. In just the last few months, we've had larger asteroids such as 2020 BX12 and 1998 OR2 (which had its close flyby just a day after 2020 HS7) swing past. Astronomers have also just watched comet 2I/Borisov, the interstellar visitor, crumble into pieces. But although it may seem like there are more rocks than ever in our vicinity, in reality, we're just getting really, really good at spotting and tracking them. This is great news for us, because it means we are becoming better equipped to deal with an asteroid that will pose a threat to Earth. Detection, observation and prediction are the first steps. What comes after that is still being ironed out, but we're getting there. In 2022, space agencies around the world will be working together to ram a spacecraft into an asteroid (one that's not headed for Earth) to see if we are able to deflect its course. If it works, we will have another brilliant tool in our kit for keeping giant rocks from raining fiery death on our planet. Source
  2. Earlier this year, the discovery of a potentially hazardous asteroid took astronomers on a roller coaster ride. On 6 January 2022, astronomers at the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona discovered an asteroid roughly 70-meters (230 ft) across. Based on their initial observations, it appeared this object – called '2022 AE1' – could potentially hit Earth on its next pass, on 4 July 2023. Since any uncertainties in an asteroid's orbit are highest in the hours just after its discovery, astronomers at several different observatories scrambled to make follow-up observations – which usually rule out any future impacts. However, based on the first seven nights of observations, the chance of impact appeared to increase. Asteroid 2022 AE1 was flagged for a potential future impact by the Asteroid Orbit Determination (AstOD), an automated system astronomers around the world use to assess the asteroid risk. Furthermore, the asteroid was given one of the highest rankings on the Palermo Scale, a ranking which astronomers use to categories and prioritize impact risks. Both ESA and NASA published the information on their Near Earth Object (NEO) information portal websites, allowing anyone – such as interested amateur astronomers – to take a look. Even more worry-inducing was the following week, where no observations could be made because the full Moon blocked out any views of this asteroid from Earth. But thankfully, when the asteroid was able to be tracked again, the accumulating data on the asteroid's path revealed the chance of impact was dramatically decreasing over time. It has since been confirmed that 2022 AE1 will not impact Earth any time in the foreseeable future. "In my almost ten years at ESA I've never seen such a risky object," said Marco Micheli, astronomer at ESA's Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC). "It was a thrill to track 2022 AE1 and refine its trajectory until we had enough data to say for certain, this asteroid will not strike." So, exactly how were astronomers able to rule out a threat that initially seemed so certain? The very first observation of an asteroid is just one data point, a single dot of light in the sky. At this point, it's not clear what it is or where it's going. Micheli explained that a second observation is needed to reveal an object in motion, and at least three are needed to determine an orbit – where it is going and how fast it is moving. Further observations refine the orbit a little more, reducing uncertainties until astronomers can be sure of where it won't go: primarily to Earth. To help make these determinations, astronomers use computer simulations to calculate the future orbital path of the asteroid, and input randomly chosen initial positions and velocities that fall within the margin of error of the observations so far. By creating a large number of simulations, astronomers can calculate the probability that any particular path will actually hit Earth. For example, if 1 million different possible orbits are simulated and just one of those leads to an impact, that means the odds of the asteroid hitting Earth are a million to one. ESA has access to a global network of asteroid observing telescopes pillars. (ESA) What usually happens is that with more observations and more data, the hazard zone narrows and the corridor of the asteroid's future path moves away from Earth, dropping the risk percentage. And with the network of observatories around the world that are focused on planetary defense – i.e., searching the skies for incoming asteroids and comets – multiple observations and quickly rule out any space rocks that aren't a threat. In the case of 2022 AE1, observations after the full Moon had waned provided the data needed to show that the risk level calculated from early observations was wrong. With more data the risk level crashed – getting close to zero – and with that, the team moved on. "The data was clear, confirmed the next morning by our counterparts at NASA – asteroid 2022 AE1 poses no impact risk," said Laura Faggioli, near-Earth object dynamicist in the NEOCC who computed the orbit of 2022 AE1 throughout the observation period. "Had 2022 AE1's path remained uncertain we would have used any means possible to keep watching it with the biggest telescopes we have. As it was removed from our risk list, we didn't need to follow it anymore – time to move onto the next." ESA said some keen observers will continue to monitor the asteroid, confirming the projections; we now know that in early July 2023, asteroid 2022 AE1 will fly by Earth at a distance of about ten million kilometers (+/- one million km) – more than 20 times the distance of the Moon. So, although the odds of any one particular asteroid ever impacting Earth are quite low, it is still likely that one day our planet will be hit by an asteroid or experience a large airburst event like the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013. At the current calculated rate of impacts, astronomers expect about one large asteroid to impact Earth every 100 million years or so. For that reason, both professional and amateur astronomers continue to scan the skies. This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article. Source
  3. Oceans cover most of the Earth, including its longest mountain range and the ancient bridges that humans crossed to reach other continents. In a recent remake of a 2008 NASA video, planetary scientist James O'Donoghue shows what it would look like if all that water drained away, revealing the hidden three-fifths of Earth's surface. O'Donoghue works at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and was formerly at NASA. For the video, he took an animation that NASA physicist and animator Horace Mitchell created in 2008 and gave it a few additions. He edited the timing and added a tracker to show how much water drains throughout the animation. Here's his slow-motion version: As the oceans slowly lose water, the first bits of hidden land that emerge are the continental shelves – the undersea edges of each continent. "I slowed down the start since, rather surprisingly, there's a lot of undersea landscape instantly revealed in the first tens of meters," O'Donoghue told Business Insider in an email. The continental shelves include some of the land bridges that early humans crossed as they migrated from continent to continent. Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors could walk from continental Europe to the UK, from Siberia to Alaska, and from Australia to the islands surrounding it. "When the last ice age occurred, a lot of ocean water was locked up as ice at the poles of the planet. That's why land bridges used to exist," O'Donoghue said. "Each of these links enabled humans to migrate, and when the ice age ended, the water sort of sealed them in." By removing that water, the animation offers a glimpse at the world of our ancient ancestors. It also shows Earth's longest chain of mountains, which appears once the sea levels have dropped 2,000 to 3,000 meters (6,500 to 9,800 feet). That's the mid-ocean ridge, which stretches over 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) across the globe. Over 90 percent of it is underwater. The volcanic mountains spring up at the seams where Earth's tectonic plates inch away from each other, creating new ocean floor as molten rock rises from beneath the plant's crust. Once the animated oceans drain by 6,000 meters (20,000 feet), most of the water is gone. But it takes nearly another 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) to empty the deepest reaches of the Marianas Trench. "I like how this animation reveals that the ocean floor is just as variable and interesting in its geology as the continents," O'Donoghue said. He added that emptying the seas unearths not only "not only the ocean bottom, but also the ancient story of humanity." source
  4. NASA shows off the best images of Earth taken from the ISS this year There have been 20 continuous years of life on the ISS In brief: In addition to NASA celebrating 20 years of continuous human presence onboard the International Space Station (ISS), crew members took thousands of photographs of Earth during 2020. Now, the agency has revealed the best twenty images of our planet as seen from space. Chosen by the people at the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the images include Cuba and the Bahamas, the fall colors of Ottawa, and moonrise over the southern Atlantic Ocean. You can see more photos taken from the ISS here. NASA has released a series of statistics about the ISS to celebrate its twenty years of constant habitation. Located about 260 miles above Earth, 240 individuals from 19 countries have visited the International Space Station, where an international crew of six live and work. The station travels at a speed of five miles per second, orbiting Earth approximately every 90 minutes . That works out at 16 orbits of the Earth every 24 hours. The ISS itself measures 357 feet end-to-end, one yard shorter than a football field, including the end zones. Its power comes from four pairs of solar arrays that provide 75 to 90 kilowatts, and it weighs 925,335 pounds with a habitable volume of 13,696 Cubic Feet. abitable volume of 13,696 Cubic Feet. Something not mentioned by NASA is that the ashes of James ‘Scotty’ Doohan have been traveling on the ISS for the last 12 years. Game developer Richard Garriott, the man behind the Ultima series, smuggled them onboard inside a laminated photo of the actor when he became one of the first space tourists to visit the station in 2008. Source: NASA shows off the best images of Earth taken from the ISS this year
  5. It's the closest astronomers have ever seen a space rock soar by without smacking into our planet. Close enough for a high-five...NASA An asteroid set a new mark on Friday for the closest pass by our planet without actually impacting. The space rock was discovered with the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, or ATLAS, run by NASA and the University of Hawaii. It has been designated 2020 VT4, and it came within just 240 miles (386 kilometers) of Earth's surface on Friday. That's closer even than objects in low-earth orbit including the International Space Station and SpaceX's Starlink broadband constellation. While this is much closer than the record set back in August when asteroid 2020 QG flew by at a distance of 1,830 miles (2,950 kilometers), it's not unusual for asteroids to get so up in our planetary grill. Plenty of bits of space dust and larger rocks make it all the way to the ground in the form of meteorites. One of the larger ones in memory caused a stir when it collided with the atmosphere over Russia in 2013. That one was not seen by astronomers beforehand, but 2018 LA was sighted just before hitting us five years later. It's thought that pieces of that asteroid made it to the ground in Africa. There have even been incidents of asteroids "bouncing off the atmosphere" and heading back out to deep space. It's not that we're suddenly getting attacked by asteroids. Rather, improvements in technology and observations have allowed astronomers to spot more and smaller asteroids sneaking ever closer by our planet. Still, it's a little unnerving to have direct evidence of space rocks whipping by us within just a few miles of the altitude where the International Space Station orbits, and just as a new crew is en route inside a shiny Crew Dragon spaceship. So keep an eye to the skies -- or all around you if you happen to be in space already. Source
  6. Finally, some good news. At the centre of the our galaxy there's a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. It has a mass roughly 4 million times that of our Sun. Great news! It turns out scientists have discovered that we're 2,000 light years closer to Sagittarius A* than we thought. This doesn't mean we're currently on a collision course with a black hole. No, it's simply the result of a more accurate model of the Milky Way based on new data. Over the last 15 years, a Japanese radio astronomy project, VERA, has been gathering data. Using a technique called interferometry, VERA gathered data from telescopes across Japan and combined them with data from other existing projects to create what is essentially the most accurate map of the Milky Way yet. By pinpointing the location and velocity of around 99 specific points in our galaxy, VERA has concluded the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A, at the centre of our galaxy, is actually 25,800 light-years from Earth -- almost 2,000 light years closer than what we previously believed. In addition, the new model calculates Earth is moving faster than we believed. Older models clocked Earth's speed at 220 kilometers (136 miles) per second, orbiting around the galaxy's centre. VERA's new model has us moving at 227 kilometres (141 miles) per second. Not bad! VERA is now hoping to increase the accuracy of its model by increasing the amount of points it's gathering data from. By expanding into EAVN (East Asian VLBI Network) and gathering data from a larger suite of radio telescopes located throughout Japan, Korea and China. Source
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