14Feb2014

Hazardous Asteroid Zips By Earth February 17

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Representation only – There are uncountable numbers of these orbiting rocks that pose an imminent danger to space travel

On February 17th a near-Earth asteroid (NEA), 2000 EM26, with an estimated diameter of three football fields (270 meters) and traveling at approximately 27,000 mph (12.37 km/s), came racing by Earth on its close approach.

The live image stream  was accompanied by discussions led by Slooh host and astronomer Bob Berman, Slooh technical director Paul Cox, and special guest Dr. Mark Boslough, an expert on planetary impacts and global catastrophes and frequent participant on many science TV documentaries. Viewers asked questions during the show by using hashtag #asteroid.

None of the known PHAs are on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time. 2006 DP14 has an estimated size of 460 m – 1.0 km (based on the object’s absolute magnitude H=18.8) and it had a close approach with Earth at about 6.2 LD (Lunar Distances = ~384,000 kilometers) or 0.0160 AU (1 AU = ~150 million kilometers) at 1905 UT on 2014, February 10.

Regular Checks

Slooh routinely tracks potentially hazardous objects (both asteroids and comets) whose sizes are large enough, and whose orbits take them near enough to our planet, that they have the potential to cause significant damage in the event of an impact. Slooh’s live broadcasts have attracted millions of viewers, and Slooh has become a leading voice to help ensure that public awareness does not wane.

Since 2008, Slooh has covered numerous asteroids as they’ve made their close approaches to Earth, including asteroids 2012 LZ1, Toutatis, and Apophis. Slooh’s work in this area was recognized in 2013 when NASA invited Slooh to participate in the NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge. Slooh members continue to track and monitor NEAs every night, helping to determine their accurate orbits and impact risk.

Says Berman, “On a practical level, a previously-unknown, undiscovered asteroid seems to hit our planet and cause damage or injury once a century or so, as we witnessed on June 20, 1908, and February 15, 2013. Every few centuries, an even more massive asteroid strikes us — fortunately usually impacting in an ocean or wasteland such an Antarctica. But the ongoing threat, and the fact that biosphere-altering events remain a real if small annual possibility, suggests that discovering and tracking all NEOs, as well as setting up contingency plans for deflecting them on short notice should the need arise, would be a wise use of resources.”

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Slooh’s technical and research director, Paul Cox says: “We continue to discover these potentially hazardous asteroids — sometimes only days before they make their close approaches to Earth. Slooh’s asteroid research campaign is gathering momentum with Slooh members using the Slooh robotic telescopes to monitor this huge population of potentially hazardous space rocks. We need to find them before they find us!”

More Detail on February 15, 2013, Events

One year ago, on February 15, 2013, the world witnessed two amazing events — one expected and the other not. Astronomers anticipated the arrival of super-close asteroid 2012 DA14 — a 40,000 ton space rock, 98 ft (30 m) in diameter, due to miss Earth by a measly 17,200 miles (27,680 km) — closer even than our geosynchronous satellites. In fact, NEA 2012 DA14 was the closest object of that size to whiz past Earth in our lifetimes. Slooh successfully tracked DA14 live from its Canary Island observatory using special imaging techniques (see highlight under video section below).

On that same day, however, something else unexpectedly tore through the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia, damaging thousands of houses, breaking innumerable windows, and causing injuries from broken glass. This object, later discovered to be an asteroid as well, was 65 ft (20 m) in diameter and exploded 18 miles above Siberia releasing the equivalent energy of more than 20 plus atomic bombs (approximately 460 kilotons of TNT).

While analysts continue to debate the significance of the event, many believe the residents of Chelyabinsk were extremely lucky to escape this celestial encounter with no loss of life. To commemorate the February 15th event, the Russian government announced that ten gold medals for winners on February 15th at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics will be embedded with Chelyabinsk meteor fragments.

SLOOH Contact: Patrick Paolucci      press@slooh.com 

 

NASA Experts Continue to Engage United Nations on NASA’s Asteroid Initiative

Asteroid 2014 AA, discovered by the NASA-sponsored Catalina Sky Survey on Jan. 1, 2014, moves across the sky. Image Credit: CSS/LPL/UA

 In June of last year, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden spoke to the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and shared with the international community what NASA is doing to detect and track asteroids. He also engaged the United Nation’s support for NASA’s mission to find, capture and redirect an asteroid to lunar orbit, and then send humans to explore it by 2025.

Following Bolden’s presentation, Mazlan Othman, director of the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs, offered support for NASA’s asteroid initiative and noted that near-Earth objects (NEO) have long been a concern for COPUOS. This week at the COPUOS Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STSC) in Vienna, Austria, two NASA experts provided an update about additional efforts NASA is taking to support the global effort to find, characterize, and monitor near-Earth asteroids.

Jason Kessler, program executive for the Asteroid Grand Challenge, gave a presentation on the grand challenge to the subcommittee. Kessler spoke about the critical need for international cooperation in order to meet the grand challenge, which is to find all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them.

At their 2013 meeting, COPUOS endorsed expanded efforts for an International Asteroid Warning Network. IAWN is a global network of telescopes and tracking stations from different parts of the world searching all parts of the sky to provide a more comprehensive picture of how many asteroids exist and where they are. The IAWN provides a way for additional nations to join the effort.

Lindley Johnson, the program executive for the Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) program, spoke to the subcommittee about the progress accomplished in the last year on the IAWN and the hazardous NEO Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG), which COPUOS also endorsed in 2013. The SMPAG is a new forum for space capable nations to discuss ways to deflect an asteroid that might impact the Earth. NASA supported the first IAWN Steering Committee meeting in January, as well as the first SMPAG meeting held in early February. The IAWN and the SMPAG are independent of the United Nations, but keep the STSC updated on their activities. 

 NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground and space-based telescopes. The NEOO program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” discovers these objects, characterizes a subset that are of interest and plots their orbits into the future to determine whether any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

 As of Feb. 1, 10,685 NEOs have been discovered, including about 97 percent of asteroids larger than .6 miles (one kilometer). But there is a greater need to pinpoint smaller asteroids such as the one that impacted near Chelyabinsk, Russia.

NASA is mainly focused on finding asteroids larger than 459 feet (140 meters), and creating new ways to find even smaller NEOs. NASA also is committed to developing new ways to search existing data to find these objects. In September 2013, NASA announced a partnership with Planetary Resources to develop crowd-sourced software solutions to enhance detection of NEOs in data already collected by NASA and agency partners.

NASA doubled the money spent in the search for potentially hazardous asteroids through the NEOO program in Fiscal Year 2014, and is committed to developing new ways to use existing data by seeking for innovative ideas from citizen scientists.

Data from the search for NEOs also is being used to support the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The mission concept is to use a robotic spacecraft to capture a small near-Earth asteroid — 13-32 feet (4-10 meters) in size — or remove a boulder 3-16 feet (1-5 meters) from the surface of a larger asteroid and redirect it into a stable orbit around the moon. Astronauts launched aboard NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket would rendezvous with the captured asteroid material in lunar orbit and collect samples for return to Earth. 

 One of the first steps for the asteroid redirect mission is to find a target asteroid appropriate for capture and redirection — a step that meshes with the grand challenge effort to find all asteroid threats to human populations.

 These two efforts are part of NASA’s Asteroid Initiative, which will leverage and integrate NASA’s activities in human exploration, space technology, and space science. The goal is to advance the technologies and capabilities needed for future human and robotic exploration, enable the first human mission to interact with asteroid material, and accelerate efforts to detect, track, characterize, and mitigate the threat of potentially hazardous asteroids. Credit: NASA