SpaceJibe

October 9, 2013

Meet the asteroid that might hit Earth in 2880

Radar image of 1950 DA acquired by the Arecibo Observatory on March 4, 2001. (NASA/JPL/S. OSTRO)

Radar image of 1950 DA acquired by the Arecibo Observatory on March 4, 2001. (NASA/JPL/S. OSTRO)

There are over 10,000 near-Earth objects (NEOs) that have been identified so far — asteroids and comets of varying sizes that approach the Earth’s orbital distance to within about 28 million miles. Of the 10,000 discoveries, roughly 10 percent are larger than six-tenths of a mile in size — large enough to have disastrous global consequences should one impact the Earth.

This is one of them.

First discovered in February 1950, 1950 DA is a 1.1-kilometer-wide asteroid that was observed for 17 days and then disappeared from view. Then it was spotted again on Dec. 31, 2000 — literally on the eve of the 21st century. Coupled with radar observations made a few weeks later in March 2001 it was found that, along with a rather high rotation rate (2.1 hours), asteroid 1950 DA has a trajectory that will bring it very close to Earth on March 16, 2880. How close? Close enough that, within a specific 20-minute window, a collision can not be entirely ruled out.

Top 10 Ways to Stop an Asteroid

The image above was made from radar observations by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in March 2001, when 1950 DA passed within 4.8 million miles of Earth. Is this the mug shot of a future continent-killer?

Radar analysis and research of 1950 DA performed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists J.D. Giorgini, S. J. Ostro, Don Yeomans and several others from JPL and other institutions revealed that the impact probability from 1950 DA in March 2880 is, at most, 1 in 300 based on what is known about the asteroid so far.

1 in 300 may sound like a slim chance, but actually this represents a risk 50% greater than that of the average hazard due to all other asteroids from now to then.

However, that’s a maximum value. The study also noted the collision probability for 1950 DA as being in the range from 0 to 0.33%. That upper limit could increase or decrease as more is learned about the asteroid. (The next opportunity for studying 1950 DA via radar is in 2032.)

There are many factors that influence the path of an asteroid through space. Its spin rate, reflectivity (albedo), composition, mass, terrain variations… gravitational interactions with other bodies, some of which may not even have been discovered yet… all of these can affect the movement of an asteroid and, more specifically, its exact position at a future point in time. While many of these things still aren’t precisely known for 1950 DA, one in particular could end up being the saving grace for our descendants: the Yarkovsky effect.

PHOTOS: Russian Meteor Strike Aftermath

A small but important force acting upon asteroids, the Yarkovsky effect is a “nudge” created by thermal emission. As an asteroid gathers heat energy from the sun, it releases some of that energy back into space. Thanks to Newtonian mechanics the sheer act of doing so creates a physical push back on the asteroid itself, altering its course ever so slightly. Over a long span of time, this slight alteration could result in the relocation of 1950 DA away from the spot in space where Earth will be on March 16, 2880… at least enough so that a miss is certain.

In fact, recent research by JPL scientists D. Farnocchia and S.R. Chesley have taken into consideration the Yarkovsky effect on 1950 DA based on known values from previous observations, as well as new research suggesting that the asteroid has a retrograde rotation. While their latest assessment does put the risk of an impact in 2880 within the lower end of the probability spectrum (4×10^-4, or -0.58 on the Palermo Scale) it is still far from zero, and in fact remains higher than any other known potential impacts.

PHOTOS: NASA’s Asteroid Capture Mission

So what would happen if the half-mile-wide 1950 DA were to hit Earth? While that depends on a lot of things, such as its composition, speed, angle of impact, where it impacts, etc., needless to say it would cause a lot of damage across a large area. I’m talking an energy release upwards of half a million megatons, which, were it to strike say, New York City, everything within at least a 100-mile radius would be flattened by the force of the impact alone — that’s halfway to Boston and Washington, DC. And that’s not even taking into consideration the air blast, atmospheric dust cloud, secondary impacts from debris, or damage from any resulting tsunami (if the impact were in the ocean)… the destruction would easily extend out many more hundreds of miles, and the repercussions — physical, financial, economic, and emotional — would extend around the globe.

But again, precisely where 1950 DA will be in another 866 1/2 years (and whether or not it will occupy the same point in space as our planet) relies on many factors that aren’t well known — even though its orbit is pretty well understood. More in-depth observations will need to be made, and that is why asteroids like this must be carefully — and continually — watched.

Luckily, 35 generations offers plenty of time to improve our knowledge. According to JPL’s Near-Earth Object program, “If it is eventually decided 1950 DA needs to be diverted, the hundreds of years of warning could allow a method as simple as dusting the surface of the asteroid with chalk or charcoal, or perhaps white glass beads, or sending a solar sail spacecraft that ends by collapsing its reflective sail around the asteroid. These things would change the asteroids reflectivity and allow sunlight to do the work of pushing the asteroid out of the way.”

ANALYSIS: Meet Asteroid 2013 MZ5, 10,000th Near-Earth Object

Still, whether because of ongoing research, faith in future generations of scientists, or just sheer probability, JPL remains confident that 1950 DA should cause little concern. “The most likely result will be that St. Patrick’s Day parades in 2880 will be a little more festive than usual as 1950 DA recedes into the distance, having passed Earth by.”

Let’s just hope the luck of the Irish is with our planet big time that year…

Source

January 9, 2013

Asteroid Apophis to whiz past Earth tonight — and return for more in 2036

An artist's rendering of the asteroid Apophis. (European Space Agency)

An artist’s rendering of the asteroid Apophis. (European Space Agency)

A European space telescope has captured new images of the huge asteroid Apophis, revealing that the potentially hazardous object is actually bigger than previously thought — and you have a chance to see the space rock yourself in two free webcasts tonight.

Asteroid Apophis has long been billed as a “doomsday asteroid” because of a 2004 study that predicted a 2.7 percent chance of the space rock hitting Earth when it passes within 22,364 miles of the planet in April 2029, European Space Agency officials said. Later studies proved, however, that the asteroid poses no threat to Earth during that flyby, but astronomers continue to track the object since it will make another pass near Earth in 2036.

 

Today, ESA officials announced that its infrared Herschel Space Observatory has discovered that Apophis is about 1,066 feet wide, nearly 20 percent larger than a previous estimate of 885 feet.

“The 20 percent increase in diameter … translates into a 75 percent increase in our estimates of the asteroid’s volume or mass,” study leader Thomas Müller of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, said in a statement. [Photos of Near-Earth Asteroid Apophis]

‘Alone among all these near-Earth asteroids that have passed our way in recent years, Apophis has generated the most concern worldwide.’

- Slooh president Patrick Paolucci

Tonight’s two free webcasts will stream live views of Apophis from telescopes in Italy and the Canary Islands tonight (Jan. 10). The webcasts, offered by the stargazing websites Slooh Space Telescope and Virtual Telescope Project, will show Apophis as a bright light moving across the night sky. The asteroid is too small to be seen through small backyard telescopes.

The Slooh Space Camera webcast will begin at 7 p.m. EST (0000 Jan. 10 GMT). The Virtual Telescope webcast will begin an hour later at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT). You can watch both live webcasts of asteroid Apophis here on SPACE.com tonight.

Apophis will be just under 9.3 million miles from Earth at the time of tonight’s webcasts, amateur astronomer Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project told SPACE.com.

“Alone among all these near-Earth asteroids that have passed our way in recent years, Apophis has generated the most concern worldwide because of its extremely close approach in 2029 and [chances of a] potential impact, albeit small, in 2036,” Slooh president Patrick Paolucci said in a statement.

In addition to asteroid Apophis, astronomers regularly scan the night sky for asteroids  that may pose a potential impact threat to Earth. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Office and Asteroid Watch program is based at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

You can track Apophis directly via the Virtual Telescope Project here: http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/webtv/

The webcast from the Slooh Space Camera can also be seen here: http://events.slooh.com/
Source

December 3, 2012

At far side of solar system, Voyager 1 discovers new region of space

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Gadgets, Outer Solar System, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 8:56 pm

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is currently exploring a new region in our solar system called the

It keeps going … and going … and going ….

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977 and now the most distant human-made object from the sun, at about 11 billion miles, has entered a new region at the edge of the solar system it is close to exiting forever.

Scientists have dubbed this region the “magnetic highway” and it’s the last stop before interstellar space, or the space between stars.

“Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun’s environment, we now can taste what it’s like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway,” said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. “We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it’s likely just a few months to a couple years away.”

“The new region isn’t what we expected, but we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Voyager.”

The findings were presented Monday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“We are in a magnetic region unlike any we’ve been in before — about 10 times more intense than before the termination shock — but the magnetic field data show no indication we’re in interstellar space,” said Leonard Burlaga, a Voyager magnetometer team member based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 launched 35 years ago on a tour of the outer planets. Afterward, both spacecraft continued to hurtle toward the fringes of the solar system.

Mission chief scientist Ed Stone says it’s unknown when Voyager 1 will finally break through to interstellar space. Once that happens, it’ll be the first manmade object to leave the solar system.

Source

September 29, 2012

New Comet Discovered—May Become “One of Brightest in History”

Filed under: Comets, Cool, Cosmology, Inner Solar System, Outer Solar System — bferrari @ 3:54 pm

Next year comet 2012 S1 might outshine the moon.

Sky-watchers in Australia ogle comet Lovejoy late last year.

Sky-watchers in Australia ogle comet Lovejoy late last year.

Andrew Fazekas
for National Geographic News
Published September 27, 2012

If astronomers’ early predictions hold true, the holidays next year may hold a glowing gift for stargazers—a superbright comet, just discovered streaking near Saturn.

Even with powerful telescopes, comet 2012 S1 (ISON) is now just a faint glow in the constellation Cancer. But the ball of ice and rocks might become visible to the naked eye for a few months in late 2013 and early 2014—perhaps outshining the moon, astronomers say.

The comet is already remarkably bright, given how far it is from the sun, astronomer Raminder Singh Samra said. What’s more, 2012 S1 seems to be following the path of the Great Comet of 1680, considered one of the most spectacular ever seen from Earth.

“If it lives up to expectations, this comet may be one of the brightest in history,” said Samra, of the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, Canada.

So what makes a comet a showstopper? A lot depends on how much gas and dust is blasted off the central core of ice and rocks. The bigger the resulting cloud and tail, the more reflective the body may be.

Because 2012 S1 appears to be fairly large—possibly approaching two miles (three kilometers) wide—and will fly very close to the sun, astronomers have calculated that the comet may shine brighter, though not bigger, than the full moon in the evening sky.

(Also see “New Comet Found; May Be Visible From Earth in 2013.”)

Refugee From the Edge of the Solar System?

First spotted late last week by Russian astronomers Artyom Novichonok and Vitali Nevski of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON), comet 2012 S1 was confirmed by the International Astronomical Union on Monday.

But while we know what 2012 S1 is, it’s still unclear where it came from. Its orbit suggests the comet may be a runaway from the Oort cloud, where billions of comets orbit about a hundred thousand times farther from the sun than Earth is.

“For astronomers, these distant origins are exciting,” Samra said, “because it allows us to study one of the oldest objects in the solar system still in its original, pristine condition.”

(Related: “Comet Is Cosmic Snow Globe, NASA Flyby Shows.”)

New Comet Bound for Glory?

Right now, 2012 S1 appears to be about 615 million miles (990 million kilometers) from Earth, between the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter, astronomers say.

As the sun’s gravity pulls the comet closer, it should pass about 6.2 million miles (10 million kilometers) from Mars—possibly a unique photo opportunity for NASA’s new Curiosity rover.

Current orbital predictions indicate the comet will look brightest to us in the weeks just after its closest approach to the sun, on November 28, 2013—if 2012 S1 survives the experience.

As the comet comes within about 1.2 million miles (2 million kilometers) of the sun, the star’s intense heat and gravity could cause the ice and rubble to break apart, scotching the sky show. (Related: “Comet Seen Vaporizing in Sun’s Atmosphere—A First.”)

“While some predictions suggest it may become as bright as the full moon, and even visible during the day, one should be cautious when predicting how exciting a comet may get,” Samra said.

“Some comets have been notorious for creating a buzz but failing to put on a dazzling display,” he said. “Only time will tell.”

More: See the first pictures of a peanut-like comet

September 18, 2012

World’s most powerful sky-mapping machine sees 8-billion year-old light

The Blanco telescope in Chile. (T. Abbott and NOAO/AURA/NSF)

The Blanco telescope in Chile. (T. Abbott and NOAO/AURA/NSF)

A new telescope camera in Chile focused on mysterious dark energy has taken its first photos of extremely distant galaxies.

The images represent the first observations — called “first light” — of an instrument called the Dark Energy Camera that was eight years in the works.

“The achievement of first light through the Dark Energy Camera begins a significant new era in our exploration of the cosmic frontier,” James Siegrist, associate director of science for high energy physics at the U.S. Department of Energy, said in a statement. “The results of this survey will bring us closer to understanding the mystery of dark energy, and what it means for the universe.”

This photo from the new Dark Energy Camera, taken in September 2012, shows the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365, in the Fornax cluster of galaxies, which lies about 60 million light years from Earth. (Dark Energy Survey Collaboration)

This photo from the new Dark Energy Camera, taken in September 2012, shows the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365, in the Fornax cluster of galaxies, which lies about 60 million light years from Earth. (Dark Energy Survey Collaboration)

Scientists think dark energy makes up 74 percent of the universe, yet they have very little idea what it is. For now, it is the name given to the force that’s counteracting gravity, causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.

The Dark Energy Camera is designed to study this puzzle by mapping out the distant universe to more accurate pin down its current and past expansion rates.

‘This survey will bring us closer to understanding the mystery of dark energy.’

- James Siegrist, associate director at U.S. Department of Energy

“The Dark Energy Survey will help us understand why the expansion of the universe is accelerating, rather than slowing due to gravity,” said Brenna Flaugher, project manager and scientist at Fermilab. “It is extremely satisfying to see the efforts of all the people involved in this project finally come together.”

The new instrument — a 570-megapixel camera — took its first photos on Sept. 12, taking aim at a portion of the southern sky from atop a mountain in the Chilean Andes. The Dark Energy Camera was built at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Ill., and was installed on the Victor M. Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, the southern branch of the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).

Each photo by the camera can capture up to 100,000 galaxies as far away as 8 billion light-years.

This zoomed-in image from the Dark Energy Camera of the center of the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae, which lies about 17,000 light years from Earth. (Dark Energy Survey Collaboration)

This zoomed-in image from the Dark Energy Camera of the center of the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae, which lies about 17,000 light years from Earth. (Dark Energy Survey Collaboration)

“We’re very excited to bring the Dark Energy Camera online and make it available for the astronomical community through NOAO’s open access telescope allocation,” said Chris Smith, director of the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory. “With it, we provide astronomers from all over the world a powerful new tool to explore the outstanding questions of our time, perhaps the most pressing of which is thenature of dark energy.”

In December, after the camera is tested, it will begin the Dark Energy Survey, the largest galaxy survey ever undertaken, by mapping one-eighth of the sky. Researchers estimate the survey should spot 300 million galaxies, 100,000 galaxy clusters and 4,000 exploding stars, called supernovas.

Source

September 6, 2012

Voyager’s 35th birthday gift: One-way INTERSTELLAR ticket

Veteran space probe bores outward into the deep void

As NASA’s Voyager probes complete their 35th year of operation, Voyager 1 has sensed a second change in the surrounding expanse of obsidian nothingness – just as scientists predicted would happen before the craft enters interstellar space.

Voyager 1 and 2 in the heliosheath (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Voyager 1 and 2 in the heliosheath (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Since June, Voyager 1 has detected galactic cosmic rays in rapidly escalating amounts, one of three criteria that must be satisfied before boffins are sure the probe has left the heliosphere, which is the outer shell of the bubble of charged particles around our Sun.

Now, as well as observing these high-energy particles streaming into the bubble, Voyager 1, launched in September 1977, has also sensed a decrease in the amount of lower-energy particles streaming out of our solar system, another sign that the spacecraft is nearing the breakthrough into interstellar space.

The final change in Voyager 1′s environment that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab’s scientists hope to see soon is the direction of the magnetic fields, which will change from running east-west to running north-south. The team is crunching the latest numbers received from the probe – now at least 11.1 billion miles from Earth – to see if this may in fact have already happened.

The craft’s twin Voyager 2 was launched in August 1977, but its slower pace means it’s slightly behind in crossing the boundary of our solar system. Nevertheless, it’s NASA’s longest-operating craft ever while soaring through space for 35 years.

Voyager 1 is the furthest manmade craft  from our home world

Voyager 1 is the furthest manmade craft
from our home world

The Voyagers were first blasted off to investigate our planets, touring Saturn and Jupiter in their original five year mission. However, even before their launch, NASA hoped they’d do more and equipped them with a Cosmic Ray Subsystem, which along with other things could measure the interstellar spectrum of cosmic rays.

“Even 35 years on, our rugged Voyager spacecraft are poised to make new discoveries as we eagerly await the signs that we’ve entered interstellar space,” Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology, said proudly.

Voyager 2 discovered the puzzling hexagonal jet stream in Saturn’s north polar region before becoming the only spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune, spying the tipped magnetic poles of the planets, and the geysers on Neptune’s frozen moon Triton.

Although it was launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 1 reached Jupiter and Saturn first and witnessed the volcanoes of Jupiter’s moon Io, the kinky nature of Saturn’s outermost main ring, and the deep, hazy atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. The craft also took the mission’s last snapshot – the famous solar system family portrait that showed Earth as a pale blue dot.

Right now, Voyager 1 is heading north while Voyager 2, at least 9 billion miles from the Sun, is moving south. It typically takes 16 hours to beam data back from Voyager 1, which has a 59MB tape store to hold information in case it cannot establish a connection with engineers back home.

“We continue to listen to Voyager 1 and 2 nearly every day,” Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. “The two spacecraft are in great shape for having flown through Jupiter’s dangerous radiation environment and having to endure the chill of being so far away from our Sun.”

Dodd and her team reckon the two ships have enough power to keep going and send data back until 2020, or maybe even 2025, giving Voyager 1 up to 13 years to explore interstellar space.

“Mission managers are eagerly anticipating the day when they break on through to the other side – the space between stars,” Stone said.

Source

July 11, 2012

New moon found orbiting demoted dwarf planet Pluto

Filed under: Cool, Kuiper Belt, Outer Solar System, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 3:49 pm
Photos of far-off Pluto taken by the Hubble telescope aren't sharp enough to see craters or mountains, if they exist on the surface, but Hubble reveals a complex-looking and variegated world with white, dark-orange, and charcoal-black terrain. (NASA, ESA, and M. Buie)

Photos of far-off Pluto taken by the Hubble telescope aren’t sharp enough to see craters or mountains, if they exist on the surface, but Hubble reveals a complex-looking and variegated world with white, dark-orange, and charcoal-black terrain. (NASA, ESA, and M. Buie)

A fifth moon has been discovered orbiting former planet Pluto, scientists with the Hubble Space Telescope announced Wednesday — but it’s still not enough to bump the dwarf planet back into the big leagues.

“Just announced: Pluto has some company — we’ve discovered a 5th moon using the Hubble Space Telescope!” Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., announced via Twitter.

Stern is principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which is scheduled to fly by the Pluto system in 2015, according to Space.com. That will be the first mission ever to visit Pluto.

Just don’t call it a planet.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union sent Pluto down to the minor leagues, labeling what had been the ninth planet orbiting our sun a “dwarf planet” instead. In spite of its many moons — including the new one, tentatively named P5 — Pluto has more in common with the other icy asteroids and planetoids orbiting with it in the “Kuiper Belt” beyond Neptune, the IAU said, than with Saturn, Uranus and Earth.

“[Pluto's] moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls,” said team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

So five moons later, Pluto’s still not a planet — though it is a very complex system. Scientists believe the many moons are relics of a collision between Pluto and another large object billions of years ago.

P5 joins Charon, Nix, Hydra, and P4 in orbit around the dwarf. It’s estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around.

“The discovery of so many small moons indirectly tells us that there must be lots of small particles lurking unseen in the Pluto system,” said Harold Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Or should they be called dwarf moons?

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/07/11/pluto-has-fifth-moon-hubble-telescope-reveals/?intcmp=features#ixzz20LiAssec

June 25, 2012

Solar System Explained From the Inside Out (Infographic)

Filed under: Big Bang, Cool, Cosmology, Inner Solar System, Outer Solar System — bferrari @ 5:06 pm

July 25, 2011

Believers in Mysterious Planet Nibiru, Comet Elenin Await Earth’s End

Artist's conception of the rogue planet Nibiru, or Planet X.

Artist's conception of the rogue planet Nibiru, or Planet X.

Renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan once described a “baloney detection kit” — a set of tools that skeptical thinkers use to investigate any new concept. A few of the key tools include a healthy distrust of information that isn’t independently verified, critically assessing an idea rather than becoming irrationally attached to it simply because it’s intriguing, and a preference for simple explanations over wildly speculative ones.

The waxing obsession with the planet Nibiru , which conspiracy theorists say is a planet swinging in from the outskirts of our solar system that is going to crash into Earth and wipe out humanity in 2012 — or, in some opinions, 2011 — shows that an astonishing number of people “are watching YouTube videos and visiting slick websites with nothing in their skeptical toolkit,” in the words of David Morrison, a planetary astronomer at NASA Ames Research Center and senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Morrison estimates that there are 2 million websites discussing the impending Nibiru-Earth collision. He receives, on average, five email inquiries about Nibiru every day.

“At least a once a week I get a message from a young person — as young as 11 — who says they are ill and/or contemplating suicide because of the coming doomsday,” Morrison told Life’s Little Mysteries, a sister site to SPACE.com.

What’s the origin of this mass panic about Nibiru, which astronomers say doesn’t exist?

A suspect origin

The idea that doomsday will result from a planetary collision was first proposed in 1995 by Nancy Lieder, a self-described “contactee.” Lieder claims she has the ability to receive messages through an implant in her brain from aliens in the Zeta Reticuli star system. On her website, ZetaTalk, she stated that she was chosen to warn mankind of an impending planetary collision which would wipe out humanity in May 2003. (When no such cataclysmic event occurred, Lieder’s followers chose 2012 as the new date for the Nibiru collision, which coincides neatly with other doomsday prophecies focused on the ending of the Mayan calendar.) [Doomsday Facts (or Fictions)]

Lieder originally called the bringer of doom “Planet X,” and later connected it to a planet that was hypothesized to exist by a writer named Zecharia Sitchin in his book “The 12th Planet” (Harper 1976). According to Sitchin (1920-2010), the ancient Sumerians wrote about a giant planet called Nibiru — the “twelfth planet” in the solar system, after the other planets (including Pluto), the sun and moon — which has an oblong orbit that swings near Earth every 3,600 years. Humans actually evolved on Nibiru, he said, and colonized this planet during a previous flyby.

Historians and language scholars say that Stitchin grossly mistranslated ancient texts. The Sumerians did indeed believe in a cosmology involving planets; however they thought there were five planets, not 12, and they did not believe that humans hopped to Earth from a place called Nibiru. Furthermore, astronomers have pointed out that a planetary orbit like the one Sitchin proposed for Nibiru is impossible: No celestial body could maintain a stable orbit that swings it through the inner solar system every 3,600 years and keeps it beyond Pluto the rest of the time. The body would quickly get sucked in or pushed out.

Nonetheless, Sitchin’s books have been translated into 25 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide. Lieder’s planetary collision theory has adopted the name of Nibiru for Earth’s planetary nemesis. Many people who believe that doomsday will occur when the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 have adopted Lieder’s Nibiru collision prophecy as the cataclysm that will bring us to that end.

Missing planet

The biggest missing link in the doomsday prophecy is Nibiru itself. Because no giant, rogue planet has been found in the outer solar system to play the role of Nibiru, some conspiracy theorists have decided that a small comet called Elenin ” href=”/cms/articles/11617-comet-elenin-wimpy-solar-system”>comet called Elenin (which will pass nearest Earth in October 2011) is actually Nibiru. Even then, though, scientists say Elenin will come no closer than 100 times farther than the distance from Earth to the moon. [What If Our Solar System Formed Closer to Milky Way's Edge?]

“The fact is that these folks are constantly changing their story,” Morrison wrote in an email. “For some, Nibiru is no longer the Sumerian god or planet that is supposed to be returning to Earth in late 2012. It has become a catchword for almost any cosmic catastrophe.”

Internet rumors about Elenin began spreading earlier this year. Its approach to Earth was blamed for shifting the Earth’s axis by 3 degrees in February, precipitating the Chile earthquake, then shifting the pole even more to trigger the Japan quake in March. “Ignoring plate tectonics as the cause of earthquakes, they suggest that the comet exerted strong gravitational or electromagnetic effects on our planet,” Morrison wrote.

When scientists pointed out that the comet is a mere 3-mile-wide glob of ice with no magnetic field and that it won’t even pass very near Earth — and that plate tectonics, not comets, cause earthquakes — rumors began to circulate that NASA was withholding information about Elenin.

“Ironically, the inconspicuous nature of this comet plays into some of the conspiracy theories,” Morrison pointed out. “For people who are convinced the comet did cause the earthquakes, this proves that Elenin is not a comet at all, but a much more massive, and dangerous, interloper.” Conspiracy theorists began speculating that the comet is Nibiru in disguise — a planet or even an enormous brown dwarf star.

In fact, Elenin is a textbook comet; it has visible “coma,” or nucleus, and a long tail made of vaporizing ice. [What's the Difference Between an Asteroid and a Comet?]

If it were a brown dwarf, “it would not have a coma or tail, because the gas cannot escape from an object with substantial gravity. In addition, if it were massive we would be seeing its gravitational influence on the orbits of the planets, especially Mars and Earth, but there is no change in these orbits,” Morrison wrote. “Finally, if it were a brown dwarf it would have been easily detected in various previous astronomical surveys, including the recent WISE infrared mission, even when it was still in the outer solar system,” he wrote.

The fact that the comet isn’t headed our way is overlooked by most conspiracy theorists, while others say its path is going to change. “[Some] websites suggest that the comet is accompanied by a giant UFO, which controls its orbit,” Morrison told us; in effect, who cares if Elenin doesn’t seem to be headed in our direction — it’ll be steered here.

Distinguishing truth from lies

Morrison offered some advice to those who are interested in astronomy or are worried about impending collisions. “If it [a story] is real, it is likely to be in regular news media, not just posted on some website,” he told us. Furthermore, “not everyone who claims on YouTube to be a scientist or an employee of NASA is. But there is no simple way to distinguish truth from lies.”

The Nibiru conspiracies are so nonsensical that Morrison wonders whether even their purveyors believe them. Because many websites sell Nibiru books, tapes and even “survival kits,” Morrison thinks they are purposely taking advantage of people who aren’t able to distinguish credible sources from crackpot ones. “This is especially a problem for young people, which is why I am so angry at those who target children,” he said.

Source

July 20, 2011

Tiny New Moon Found Circling Distant Pluto

Filed under: Cool, Outer Solar System — bferrari @ 3:05 pm
Illustration of the Pluto Satellite System orbits with newly discovered moon P4 highlighted.

Illustration of the Pluto Satellite System orbits with newly discovered moon P4 highlighted.

A tiny new moon has been discovered around Pluto, the fourth and smallest one yet found orbiting the dwarf planet, photos from the Hubble Space Telescope reveal.

The moon, which has been temporarily named P4, was spotted in a Hubble survey searching for rings around Pluto.

The tiny satellite is estimated to be between 8 and 21 miles (13 to 34 kilometers) wide. For comparison, Pluto’s largest moon Charon is 648 miles (1,043 km) across. The dwarf planet’s other moons, Nix and Hydra, range between 20 to 70 miles across (32 to 113 km). [Photo of Pluto's new moon]

“I find it remarkable that Hubble’s cameras enabled us to see such a tiny object so clearly from a distance of more than 3 billion miles (5 billion km),” Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. said in a statement. Showalter led this observational survey with Hubble.

Pluto’s new moon is located between the orbits of Nix and Hydra, which Hubble also discovered in 2005. Charon was discovered in 1978 at the U.S. Naval Observatory and was first resolved using Hubble in 1990 as a separate body from Pluto.

The finding is a result of ongoing work to support NASA’s New Horizons mission, which is scheduled to fly through the Pluto system in 2015. The mission is designed to provide new insights about worlds at the edge of our solar system.

Hubble’s photos of Pluto’s surface and the discovery of its satellites have been invaluable for planning for New Horizons’ close encounter, scientists said.

“This is a fantastic discovery,” said New Horizons’ principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. “Now that we know there’s another moon in the Pluto system, we can plan close-up observations of it during our flyby.”

The dwarf planet’s entire moon system is believed to have formed by a collision between Pluto and another planet-sized body early in the history of the solar system. The galactic smashup flung material that combined into the family of satellites observed around Pluto.

P4 was first seen in a photo taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 on June 28. It was confirmed in subsequent Hubble pictures taken on July 3 and July 18. The moon was not seen in earlier Hubble images because the exposure times were shorter.

There is a chance that P4 appeared as a very faint smudge in images from 2006, but was overlooked because it appeared obscured, scientists said.

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