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Asteroid 2012 DA14’s Flirt with Earth

12 Feb

The extremely close fly-by of an asteroid this week reminds us of just how vulnerable this world is. In a week where we all hold and cherish the ones we adore, we must also remember that we have come to love and depend on this planet and that we must also do our all to defend her.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass our world this week, reaching its closest point on Friday 15th at around 19:30(GMT), coming in closer proximity than some of the satellites that orbit above us. This is the nearest any NEO (Near Earth Object) has come in history or at least recorded human history, zooming by at a height of 17,200 miles. That may sound like a large amount but that distance is 10 times closer than the circulation of the moon.

Covering half a football field Asteroid 2012 DA14 is relatively small in comparison to some wondering rocks out there but if it were to collide with another dense body, chaos and destruction would ensue. It is thought if this particular asteroid were to end up on a collision course with Earth that its fate would be similar to the asteroid that exploded in the ‘Tunguska‘ event over Siberia in 1908. Luckily 2012 DA14 is NOT on an impact trajectory with Earth nor is it likely to in the future. Of course this is not certain but scientists have been able to plot the rocky body’s course for the next few decades and note that we are safe for now.

NASA and other Space organizations are planning to assess and document all of 1,300 known potentially dangerous NEO’s. Modern technology allows us to calculate future courses of huge wondering rocks, it almost seems as though we have a Saint watching over us and letting us know when we are in danger.

In a week where people the world over celebrate St Valentines day by handing each other gifts depicting effigies such as Cupid, maybe the Pagan festival of Lupercalia rings more truthful.

Outlawed by the church centuries ago for being un-Christian, Lupercalia, is a festival marking purification and as a warning to evil spirits coming to plunder riches. It seems rather fitting then that such a heavenly event such as Asteroid 2012 DA14’s passing should coincide with Lupercalia. As a species we rely heavily on what our planet offers because well, we have nothing else, nowhere else.

Unfortunately asteroid 2012 DA14 will not be visible to the naked eye from Central Europe but perhaps that makes it that much more romantic, an object of such devastation can roam by freely, barely missing us and many are none the wiser. NASA have this base covered as they intend to research future fly-bys by asteroids of similar threat. One way they plan on doing this is by launching a satellite in 2016 called ‘Osiris-Rex’ that will monitor Asteroid 1999 RQ36. A vastly bigger rock than DA14 but one that isnt scheduled to pass us again until 2182, posing a threat to future generations.

If you are a keen amateur astronomer the best places to see Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be in the Eastern Hemisphere but if you live elsewhere and you are equipped with a small telescope you maybe lucky enough to find it in the northern sky passing through to the south on Friday February 15th, although it will appear very faint and only for a short while.

Happy Hunting.

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NASA’s Budget Cuts Felt on Mars

21 Feb

The largest Space Agency in the world, NASA, is due to have its spending budget cut significantly as of next year in an attempt to drive down the national debt the United States currently possesses. President Barack Obama revealed plans to slice the government’s allowance to the aeronautics institute when previously stating it would be increased to fund current and future missions.

Projects such as the James Webb Space Telescope will suffer heavily by this action, that is sure to dent the countries hopes of remaining in pole position in the on-going space race. The cut may not seem a lot, penciled currently at $17.7 billion from previously $17.8 billion, but with America’s money going elsewhere, this is a huge blow for mans progression into space.

NASA’s planetary division will see a cut of $300 Million which is sure to stunt the growth of some of the most innovative space programs to date. Reports convey that the percentage cut could have been substantially more at 15% rather than the 5% that was implemented. Still, brand new missions are sure to be pushed back or scraped by the agency altogether in an attempt to spread spending.

Missions to Mars are likely to be worst hit. Scientists in charge of current Martian missions will have to decide whether to fund new projects to the planet or to keep the current missions including the explorer rovers and orbiting satellites. The MAVEN mission, a satellite designed to detect previous evidence of water on the red planet, will still go ahead next year but this has also had serious reductions.

Other areas that have seen dramatic cuts is Education which suffered a drop of 38.5%,  many planetary scientists think this is wrong. Phil Plait; Astronomer and MC at Bad Astronomy says:

“That money funds a vast amount of educational outreach – and I should know. That funding does a huge amount of good for schoolkids, and cutting it is a mistake”.

Rather than help the progression of mankind’s exploration of the Universe the US government proved it would prefer to aid the crusade outside its own borders by subsequently releasing that the Defence budget for 2013 would reach $851 billion. This figure out weighs the cost of healthcare and social security within America as well as NASA’s sliced budget.

Significant budget cuts like this are sure to be felt worldwide and beyond as human kind’s stance of the edge of discovery is pushed back. Missions to Mars are key to our appreciation of life and the understanding of various environments out in deep space. Scientist’s predictions of having a man on Mars in 30 years seems that much further away. Unless private space flight is mainstreamed or Russia takes the lead in the space race NASA will begin to fall behind where before it was so integral to our understanding of creation.