Man, That was Close

A 150-foot asteroid orbiting Earth called 2012 DA14 will pass so close to Earth it will fly UNDER man-made satellites orbiting our planet.

Nasa’s Impact Risk report said that the odds of the space rock actually hitting our planet are very low, but on February 15 next year it will pass just 17,000 miles from Earth, closer than ‘geostationary’ satellites.

If an asteroid of that size hit our planet, it would cause an explosion similar to a nuclear blast.

Two astronomers from the the Observatorio Astronómico de La Sagra in Spain spotted 2012 DA14 in late February and its orbit has been calculated to be very similar to Earth’s.

Some reports suggested that on February 15 next year an impact was a possibility, but U.S astronomer Phil Plait, the creator of the Bad Astronomy blog, has ruled out an impact.

He wrote: “Asteroid 2012 DA14 is almost certainly not going to hit Earth next February. And by, almost certainly, I mean it. The odds of an impact are so low they are essentially zero. This does not rule out an impact at some future date, but for now we’re safe.”

 The space rock will come within 17,000 miles of Earth, which is closer than some of our satellites, but Plait says this is nothing to worry about.

He adds: “Seventeen thousand miles is well beneath many of our own orbiting satellites. To the best of my knowledge, this is the closest pass of a decent-sized asteroid ever seen before the actual pass itself. However, let’s again be very clear, it will miss. In astronomical terms, 17,000 miles is pretty close, but in real human terms it’s a clean miss.”

After next year, 2012 DA14’s closest brush with Earth will come in 2020, but Plait said that even then, the odds of an impact will be less than the chance of being hit by lightning in your lifetime – 1 in 100,000.

Last night a space rock caused panic across the UK, with police forces inundated with calls after spotting it in the sky and mistaking it for a burning aircraft.

Reports of a ‘bright light’ and an ‘orange glow’ were received by police across Scotland and the north of England at about 9.40pm yesterday.

The Met Office tweeted: “Hi all, for anyone seeing something in the night sky, we believe it was a meteorite.”

The Kielder Observatory also reported the sighting of a ‘huge fireball’ travelling from north to south over Northumberland.
The Observatory posted on Twitter: “Of 30 years observing the sky, fireball best thing I have ever seen period.”

Attribution: Ted Thornhill

Clean Up Your Space, Young Man

More than half a century of sending objects into space has left the Earth surrounded by junk. Bits of long-dead satellites, spent rocket stages and other debris orbit the planet at almost 18,000 mph, each chunk a potential hazard to working satellites or astronauts.

The Swiss have a plan, however. Scientists at the Swiss space centre at EPFL, the federal institute for technology in Lausanne, want to send a “janitor satellite” into orbit, to sweep up debris and permanently remove it from orbit.

The $11 million satellite, called CleanSpace One, could launch within five years, according to EPFL.

Nasa keeps track of 16,000 pieces of orbiting junk that are larger than 10cm (4in) in diameter. There could be more than 500,000 measuring 1cm-10cm and many hundreds of millions smaller ones.

Even a small fragment of debris could severely damage (or even destroy) satellites or other spacecraft that collide with them, creating even more dangerous debris. The International Space Station has to regularly alter its orbit to avoid being hit by large bits of junk.

In February 2009, the US satellite Iridium-33 exploded when it accidentally hit Russia’s long-abandoned Cosmos-2251 satellite.

“It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation,” said Claude Nicollier, an astronaut and EPFL professor.

CleanSpace One would match its trajectory to that of its target using an EPFL-designed ultra-compact motor. When it reaches its target, it will grab the junk with a gripping claw. At speeds of up to 18,000mph, this will not be an easy task, especially if the junk is rotating. CleanSpace One will then head back to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere, along with its attached junk.

For its first mission, EPFL will aim to bring down one of two abandoned Swiss satellites: the Swisscube picosatellite, which was launched into orbit in 2009, or the TIsat, launched in July 2010.

Russia’s planned Mars/moon probe never escaped Earth orbit after its November launch, despite the efforts of Russian and European space agencies. It’s one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth.

“We want to offer and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites,” said Volker Gass, the Swiss space centre’s director, in a statement on the EPFL website.

“Space agencies are increasingly finding it necessary to take into consideration and prepare for the elimination of the stuff they’re sending into space. We want to be the pioneers in this area.”

Attribution: UK Guardian