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Image via Universe Today

Image via Universe Today

You may have heard about the killer asteroid aptly named Apophis, which had a chance of hitting earth in 2036 and potentially devastating a good chunk of the human population. Thankfully, scientists have now made more accurate observations of Apophis and ruled out the possibility of it hitting earth.

The asteroid has been on a watch list for many years because in 2029 it will pass very VERY close to earth. So close that it will actually be inside the orbit of some of our satellites! The fear was that if the asteroid passed through a very specific spot as it passed us, the earth’s gravity would tug on it just right so that its orbit would be altered and it would hit earth on its next pass in 2036. Due to limited observations of Apophis, astronomers didn’t know its exact orbit accurately enough to determine if it would pass through this very specific gravitational “keyhole.” Even before this latest observation, which occurred during its latest flyby of earth, the odds of Apophis passing through that keyhole were very slim (about 1 in 100,000 if I remember correctly, but don’t quote me on that) but significant enough to worry. Further observations a few years ago lessened the odds considerably to about 1 in 1,000,000. Now, astronomers are absolutely positive the rock will not pass through that gravitational keyhole, and the rock will never hit earth. They also learned from these latest observations that Apophis is actually larger than originally thought- about 325 meters in diameter, vs. 270. So it’s a really good thing that this rock won’t hit us!

This does not mean we can sit back and relax, however. There are probably thousands of asteroids flying around out there that we haven’t even seen yet, and any of them could be on a collision course with us. It’s a very real threat, and based on our knowledge of past extinctions and impacts, statistically it’s only a matter of time before we get smacked by another one. We just have be able to detect it before it hits us, and have the technology in place to deflect it.

More detailed info can be found at Bad Astronomy and Universe Today.

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Credit: NASA

Space Shuttle Discovery touched down for the final time this morning just before noon at Kennedy Space Center. The shuttle has spent a total of 365 days in space and traveled a total of 148 million miles on 39 missions. It is the oldest shuttle in the fleet and has always been considered NASA’s workhorse. Universe Today has a post with a crop of great photos from this last mission, as does the NASA website of course. Some cool facts from my own knowledge as well as tweets from Astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson: the shuttle is traveling roughly 17,500 mph while in orbit, but it’s de-orbit thrusters slow it by only 188 mph. That’s enough to allow it to slowly drop into the upper reaches of earth’s atmosphere, at which point the air begins to take over the slowing process. The drag from the earth’s atmosphere is the only thing that slows the shuttle down from then on, including on the runway because the shuttle has no brakes, just a parachute that deploys just after it touches down. Everything in the re-entry process is meticulously calculated because they only have one chance at it. The shuttle has no power- it’s only a glider once back in the atmosphere, so everything has to be absolutely perfectly executed. The pilot is assisted by lots of powerful onboard computers that take care of most of the difficult fine-tuned adjustments, but the pilot must be able to take over if something goes wrong- the skill level required is immense. On April 12th, NASA is expected to announce the final destinations of the three remaining orbiters after their retirement. Discovery is expected to go to the Smithsonian, but that is not certain until the announcement is made. More on that at Space.com.

I feel I must also mention the alien bacteria craziness that happened over the weekend and earlier this week. NASA scientist Richard Hoover had a paper published that claimed that he had found evidence of extraterrestrial bacteria in a meteorite. Well, basically everyone else in the science community is saying he’s wrong, and I’m inclined to agree. There are a host of reasons why his claim is probably bogus, not the least of which is the fact that contamination of a meteorite by earthly bacteria is all but inevitable. Also, the paper had not completed a peer-review process before it was published, not to mention that it was published in a less-than-reputable journal that has a history of publishing error-laden work. NASA even issued a statement saying that they had nothing to do with Hoover’s paper or his claim. Most of this info comes from Phil Plait’s analysis of the situation. Get the whole story from him.

On a lighter note, enjoy this animated GIF gem, also from Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog:

Combined science/music post today. Not much time….

A meteorite about the size of a fist crashed through the roof of a doctor’s office in Virginia on monday. Reports say that it was traveling about 220 MPH when it hit the roof. There’s a common misconception that all meteorites hit the ground as a fireball and cause a crater. The truth is only the really big ones, about car-size and up, actually have enough inertia to keep up those kinds of speeds all the way to the ground. The smaller ones that reach the ground have long since been slowed by the friction of the atmosphere, and usually hit at speeds anywhere from 100 to 300 mph, depending on the size and weight. I don’t want to spend much time on this so go here or here for more info.

Now for the music.

I mentioned a while back that beloved Nashville scrap-punkers Meemaw decided to end their hiatus. Well, the time has come! It all goes down tonight at The End, along with Marj!, So Jazzy, and JEFF the Brotherhood. I don’t really know if you can quite call it an interview, but please do check out this gem of a video segment of them talking/playing a new song/goofing off over at Nashville’s Dead. Good times.

Unfortunately this had to happen the same night as a ton of other good stuff in town.

One of the aforementioned other things is the special edition of Happy Valley at the Cannery Ballroom, where I will be running the Generation Domination photobooth. It’s part of Mercy Lounge’s 7-year anniversary party, but unlike the other show upstairs, it will cost a meager $5 to get into. The FREE show upstairs will consist of The Non-commissioned Officers, The Ettes, De Novo Dahl, Apollo Up, and the two secret guests have now been revealed- The Features and Turbo Fruits. That has to be the most amazing lineup of local rock I’ve seen in a long time.

On Saturday Mercy is once again the place to be, as the last day of their week of free shows consists of Space Capone, How I Became the Bomb, Heypenny, Madi Diaz, Tallest Trees, and Armed Forces. This amazing lineup will be followed by the return of BFF, featuring yours truly and Fan Fiction of Nashville Nights on the decks, and we promise to keep your butt on the dancefloor till the wee hours.

In case you missed the memo, BFF was a weekly dance party held by me (Burgers) and Joseph (Fan Fiction) at Mad Donna’s in east Nashville. That location turned out to be not quite right for what we were trying to do, so instead of keeping BFF as a monthly staple, we decided to just let it be the branding we use whenever/wherever we spin together. There are two upcoming BFF-related events, the first of which I just mentioned, and the other is Feb. 5th at La Paz. More details are in the pipeline about that, but I’ll say now that it’s probably going to be the official afterparty for the Features’/Cortney Tidwell/Majestico show which just a block away at Exit/In. It’s gonna be a blast y’all.

Have a great weekend!

Remember that meteorite from Mars that caused a huge stir back in 1996 when NASA announced that it thought it had found remnants of fossilized bacteria in it? If you don’t, just know that this meteorite, named the “Alan Hills meteorite,” had what we initially thought was a fossilized remnant of ancient Martian bacteria. But then some other scientists came forth with an equally plausible hypothesis for a non-microbial origin of the microscopic formation. So ever since then, the scientific community has been at odds, with one camp saying “Yes, it’s an ancient Martian microbe! There really was life on Mars!” and another camp saying “Nope. That formation wasn’t biological in origin.” But new technology has shed some light on the subject that wasn’t possible back then. Researchers at the Johnson Space Center have used more sophisticated High Resolution Electron Microscopy than was available in 1996 to study the meteorite, and their findings contradict the nay-sayers. So, if no new nay-saying hypotheses come out, then we can be pretty damn certain that microbial life once existed on Mars. AND it may even still exist there, under the surface! (Via Universe Today)

Kottke.org is one of longest-running blogs in existence, and it’s almost always full of random awesomeness. In this case, it’s all about the H1N1 vaccine, and how it and other vaccines are made. I had no idea it took soooo many chicken eggs. Do yourself a favor and read all about it.

Now here’s yet another hilarious comic from xkcd:

In addition to being a totally awesome sight to behold, the famous pyramids of Giza in Egypt have also been a bit of a mystery. Scientists and archaeologists had a hard time explaining exactly how they were built given the technological limitations of the time period. The Pharaohs had a massive army of laborers at their disposal, but carving those massive blocks out of stone and moving them over miles of scorching desert would seem to be an insurmountable task even for an army of men. I was intrigued when I stumbled across the work of Dr. Joseph Davidovits, who claims that the stones were actually cast from a type of limestone concrete. This method would’ve require FAR less man-power and makes the pyramids’ construction seem much more reasonable. The seemingly impossible construction of the pyramids has fueled some ridiculous crackpot ideas that aliens helped build them. I was very glad to see that real science has actually explained the mystery of their construction quite well. Science wins. As always. Read more about his book Why the Pharaohs built the Pyramids with fake stones on the website of the Geopolymer institute.

This morning NASA attempted to launch the Ares I-X, the very first full-scale test version of their new Ares I rocket, which (if NASA proceeds on the current path) will replace the space shuttle as our primary means of transporting astronauts to low earth orbit. But a series of silly issues such as a probe cover getting stuck and a cargo ship accidentally entering the danger zone, combined with bad weather caused the launch to be delayed… possibly until tomorrow, maybe later.

Speaking of NASA… last week they got the full, detailed report from the Augustine Commission, which is a group of aerospace industry experts put together earlier this year by the Obama Administration to assess the state of manned spaceflight within NASA. Basically it’s a more fleshed-out, complete version of the preliminary report I mentioned several weeks ago on this blog. It’ll be interesting to see which solution NASA administrator Charles Bolden and the Obama Administration decide to go with. Personally, I’d like to see NASA get that additional 3 billion they need, but who knows? I can’t really summarize the options any better than Universe Today did last week when they reported on this, so I’ll just quote:

1. Maintain all programs as is, but extend the space shuttle program to 2011 and ISS to 2020. Without extra funding, the Ares rockets wouldn’t be ready until 2020 and there would never be enough money to go to the Moon.

2. Maintain current funding, scrap Ares I, develop an Ares V lite version (about 2/3 of Ares V heavy) and divert extra funds to ISS for extension to 2020. Buy commercial LEO human space flight. The Ares might be ready by 2025, and perhaps get to the Moon after 2030.

3. Add $3 billion per year and proceed with the Constellation program to return to the Moon. The ISS would have to be de-orbited in 2016 to allow a return to the Moon by about 2025.

4. Add $3 billion per year. Extend the ISS to 2020 and get to the Moon by about 2025. Use either Ares V Lite, or Shuttle-C for heavy lift.

5. Add $3 billion per year. Extend the shuttle program to 2011 and extend ISS to 2020. Instead of heading to land on the Moon, orbit the Moon, or go to Near Earth Objects and prepare to go to Mars. Use either Ares V Lite; a heavy Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) or, a shuttle-derivative.

So there you have it.

Yesterday some news outlets reported on a possible crater in Latvia left by a large meteorite impact. Well, it’s been confirmed as a FAKE, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Some Latvians must’ve had waaay too much time on their hands because after detailed inspection, shovel marks could be seen on the edge of the hole. I won’t spend too much time explaining all the obvious scientific inconsistencies because Dr. Phil Plait has done a thorough job of it at his blog Bad Astronomy. The biggest misconception about meteorites is that all of them cause a crater if they make it all the way to the ground- they don’t. In fact most that do hit the ground are less than a meter in diameter and actually are cold by the time they reach it. They also are traveling at normal terminal velocity and just hit with a non-crater-causing thud.

Finally, I’m really happy to see that the Large Hadron Collider repairs came along nicely and they’ve started inserting particles into loop. No actual collisions yet, but if all goes as planned they should be doing their first ones next month. Follow CERN on Twitter for updates.

Quick update on the near-Pavement-reunion last weekend: The Scene’s blog got even more national press- including Rolling Stone’s blog and Stereogum. Wooo!

Apparently Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice, which is owned by PepsiCo, is reverting to its old carton design. The new design unveiled in January resulted in a lot of emails and letters from consumers who didn’t like the new look. Thus, they decided to appease the disgruntled customers and go back to the classic design. I personally liked the new typeface, but I agree that the straw-in-orange image was classic, and central to their message of pure, unaltered juice, straight from the fruit. I say return the straw-orange image, but keep the new typeface… but that’s just me. Via NY Times.

Credit: Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald

Credit: Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald

The first fragments of the Texas fireball from last sunday have been found, proving to the doubters that it indeed was NOT fragments from the satellite collision. They’re hoping to find much larger fragments in the near future. The Arizona group of meteorite hunters estimate that the original meteor was about the size of a refrigerator or even a little bigger. It would have to be that big to be seen in the daytime and cause a sonic boom. Very cool!

The whole field of environmental science and protection took a major blow early this morning when NASA’s new Orbiting Carbon Observatory crashed into the ocean near Antarctica. A shield intended to protect the 972-pound spacecraft failed to disengage about 3 minutes after lauch, and caused the overall assembly to fall short of orbit and crash back to earth. This satellite was intended to study CO2 levels in the atmosphere and better understand its natrual cycles. Sad, indeed.

I have to say that despite the horrific mess of driving through Knoxville yesterday, this year’s Thanksgiving break was a good one. Megan and I went back to east TN to visit my parents, and even got to go skiing wed. night after rushing to get there early enough. The snow was in good shape (for the southern Appalachians, at least) and we had a blast. Don’t get me wrong, skiing in NC or any where in the Appalachians doesn’t hold a candle to skiing in CO or anywhere in the rockies, but it’s better than nothing.

Today’s links:

Sharon Van Etten on RCRD LBL blog. I remember being served Red Stripe by her at the Red Rose in Murfreesboro years ago. She played at the Basement a few months ago and it took me a while to realize from where I recognized her. It’s awesome to see her getting some recogition in the blogosphere.

Weezer will be releasing an album of old recordings that “for some reason didn’t make the final cut” for their other albums. Very exciting. They can’t seem to put out anything new that’s worth more than a few listens on the way home from the record store, so the random old gems are gonna be the only way they can please the die-hard old school Weezer fans such as myself. Via Billboard.com:

On the heels of the release of the second volume of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo’s home recordings, the group is now taking a look back into its own vaults. Cuomo tells Billboard the tentatively titled “Odds and Ends” will feature “great songs” which “for some reason didn’t make the final cut” for an album.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour touched down at Edwards Air Force Base in California yesterday after thunderstorms and crosswinds at Kennedy Space Center caused NASA to use its backup landing plan.

This may be old news by now, but the fragments of the meteor that streaked across the Canadian skies last week have finally be located. Apparently it was a pretty big one weighing a few tons. Image via Universe Today.

University of Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley poses with a fragment of a meteorite in a small pond. AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Geoff Howe

University of Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley poses with a fragment of a meteorite in a small pond. AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Geoff Howe

An environmental activist is planning to sue world leaders for global warming via a class action lawsuit for $1 billion.

HOLY SHIT! MANS WALKS ON FUCKING MOON!

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