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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Apocalypse 2012: Nibiru, the Maya or Planetary Alignment?

2 Dec

So this year is to be the year it all ends, our planets eradication from this Universe has been foreseen. The last remaining grains of sand have been said to be cascading down on our time here on Earth. It seems not without one last hooray. What terror this way comes? What is it we are to be so afraid of?  Are we to fear a head on collision with another planet or is celestial alignment due to bring Armageddon? We are going to look at some of the more popular catastrophe theories and more importantly deflate them, one thing you can be certain of is we sure as hell do not need Bruce Willis to get involved.

If you are looking for an exaggerated conspiracy story then you have come to the wrong place. Gossip and hear say is to blame for the, somewhat, minor hysteria that has caused people to fear the year 2012. Whatever viral ‘day of reckoning’ theory you are into read this carefully and tick the following rumors off your doomsday, checklist book. The world is not going to end this month and if it does, then money will be donated to some sort of charity for Zombies.

Artists depiction of Planet X (Nibiru)

One premise for Earths destruction is Planet X, or Nibiru, a theoretical body thought by some to be orbiting our Sun in the outer reaches of the Solar System. Belief in this planet stems from certain hypothesis drawn up hundreds of years ago. Astronomer Percival Lowell believed the wondering world was there due to inaccuracies in his research on Neptune. Other people were just plain crazy with the idea. Lowell coined the term ‘Planet X’ in 1894 to explain certain anomalies in the outer planet’s orbits but the phrase was stolen and used by Nancy Lieder in 1995.

Nancy Lieder, part-time theorist and website entrepreneur (website below), proclaimed that she was receiving messages from extra-terrestrials through an implant positioned in her brain. After some years being somewhat ignored she then went onto announce that Planet X was on its way to collide with Earth. This huge careering agent would speed through the inner Solar System and fly-by very close to us; this would apparently cause, puzzlingly, the magnetic field of the earth to reverse at the poles. The initial year for impact was 2003 but this date was obviously ridiculed after no such event occurred, then all theories related to Nibiru were abandoned.

Nancy still defends her ideas to this day, believing 2012 is to be the real end date. Here is an article on the planet terrorizing the solar system from the mastermind herself.

However, there is a rather large problem with this theory, Where is Nibiru? For a planet that is thought to be bigger than Jupiter it is awfully well concealed. Some have said Nibiru is simply orbiting the other side of the Sun, others have said its so dark in colour you can not see it against the blackness of space. The fact is, it is not there because if the planet were orbiting our sun, humans would have known about it for centuries maybe even millennia. This theory seems to far fetched to be anything other than individual lunacy especially since there is no shred of evidence to Planet X’s existence.

Another story that has caught the virtual headlines this year is a theory on planetary alignment. A picture showing three planets over the pyramids at Giza quickly spread across the world declaring that this celestial phenomenon would happen for the first time in nearly 2,800. The only thing wrong with this one is, well, science. Some prankster has obviously found out about certain goings on in the night sky around the winter solstice and decided to try and fool the easily swung majority. Many people did a small amount of research to decipher if any of these events were to take place anytime soon. Well actually three planets will line up over Egypt on the December 3rd 2012, but not symmetrically over the pyramids. Saturn, Venus and Mercury will appear close in the Eastern sky but this is not planetary alignment. The angle of the ‘alignment’ would also look more vertical than horizontal. (see picture below).

Hoax image of Planteary alignment

Planetary ‘alignment’ as it would look over Egypt

This picture (Left) has obviously been doctored because the event has not taken place yet. Another note is that if it was a real snapshot, as a photographer you would have to stand on the Northwest side of the monuments. The hoax picture would of have to have been taken from the Southeast meaning the accuracy of the ‘alignment’ is simply unfeasible. Researching this theory brought up no tangible evidence to support  just what planetary alignment theorists think will happen come this day. Does gravity cease to exist throughout the universe causing worlds and suns to fall? Does it awaken some sort of ancient evil behemoth to terrorize human kind? One answer I found was a link to the Mayans and the dreaded end to the now world famous calendar. There seems to be NO link between the two, although admittedly if one theory of the Apocalypse was to be right, this is the most feasible.

The Mayans are an ancient and very attuned race who used “The Long Count” calendar, as many other pre-columbian mesoamerica civilizations did, to calculate when and where they were. This age old calendar is scheduled to end this month on the 21st December 2012.

This has led many conspirators and schemers to envision doomsday according to Maya prophecy. The fact is anyone would have severe difficulty putting a date on doomsday. Nostradamus could not get it right in the end, so someone else must have seen it coming? Present day astrologers would leave this subject well alone, even as they proclaim supernatural telekinetic visions guide their teachings of the stars and human personality fusing. Even modern religious factions stay well away from putting exact dates on events. So did the Mayans have it right? Is the end of their calendar due to be the end of existence, as we know it? Well, the Maya were clever but not that clever.

The Maya were an intellectual and spiritual people living in what is now called Guatemala, on the border with Mexico. Throughout thousands of years these people strived to improve many aspects to their civilization. They were already great agriculturalists but as time went on they became experts in water cultivation, masonry and astronomy. During this period of huge improvement for human civilization the Maya always withheld their strong beliefs on worship and creation.

The story of Maya creation says that this world or realm we currently live in was the last in a series of eras that did not meet the almighty god Hunab Ku’s approval. We are currently considered to be within the fourth of theses worlds. The first three were all built and then destroyed by flood due to Hunab Ku being unhappy with imperfections to the composition of there inhabitants. The first occupants were too dense and unimaginative, the second uncommunicative and the third to god like. The fourth world’s inhabitants (the ancient maya) will also eventually be destroyed by a great flood, when? No one knows. This event holds no direct correlation with when the Long Count Calendar said the world would end. Although, it has to be said, recent natural events across the world has caused many to draw up comparisons.

The Mayan calendar is very different to ours, although they were great astronomers and used the cosmos’ clockwork to roughly the same accuracy as we record it today. Maya time keeping was made using much larger periods, the second largest being a B’ak’tun. Prophecy sees each b’ak’tun last roughly 144,000 days or roughly 394 years, according to a modern clock. On the 21st December 2012 we will come to the end of what the Mayans know as the 13th b’ak’tun. The end might sound disastrous and terrifying but many scholars say that this is just a transition period into a new age, or the “14th b’ak’tun”.

Now the only issue is that there is no 14th b’ak’tun. The Maya simply do not have a unit larger than 13 baktuns or 5,128 years. Using this time period working backwards we get to the year 3114 BC, many chronologists believe this date to be either the creation of this 4th world or that some other colossal event took place around this time. Other theorists just think that the Mayan calendar will simply reset to 0 rather than a great flood that destroys all life on Earth. The end of an ancient peoples calendar doesn’t mean that some sort of pubescent millennium bug is back either, so get that out of your minds.

The 21st of December is very close to the winter solstice, a time when the sun reaches the lowest point in the sky and begins its journey back up the horizon, meaning longer hours of light and heat. This date has been regarded as a celebration for millennia across the world and time itself due to the longer periods of energy essential for farming and hunting. The subject of winter solstice was covered in a previous Before Us The Stars article,

The Maya were fantastic astronomers and agriculturalists so this is no coincidence that an important date to them should also fall on a still significant date to millions around the globe. Being aware of the cosmos was vitally important to enabling the civilization to grow; the Mayans were able to fine-tune their calendar over generations ensuring they would never go hungry.

All of these theories carry only the one thing in common, the fact that they are just theories. Armageddon is coming, that is a fact, but real substantial evidence on the exact date would be almost impossible to find. Almost impossible because when it comes to the universe we are clueless, we have no real idea about what is out there, is that surely the most exciting theory of all?

However we are a species able to change and predict the world around us, a land probably envisioned by ancient ancestors of ours.

What will you be doing on Friday 21st December 2012 to celebrate or repent?

Super-Human Space Gracers

18 Oct

More than 8 Million people tuned into YouTube this week to watch daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s spectacular fall to Earth from an estimated height of around 39km (24 Miles). It was truly a wondrous feat and extremely exciting to watch online as preparations and last minute checks were made while he ascended to the target altitude. Felix will go down in the record books as holding the highest skydive ever completed, and will be remembered for a long time by those that witnessed it. Achievements like this has always driven man to the edges of courage and endurance as Felix is a member in a long list of men to face adversity head on and gain worldwide respect. Here is a run down of SOME of the gutsiest men to have dared take their feet from the ground.

As Felix was preparing for his jump there is no doubt that he took both inspiration and advice from a similar jump that took place 50 years ago. In August 1960, Joe Kittenger, a command pilot with the US Air Force, jumped from a height of 31km, (19 Miles) just short of Felix’s daring leap. During his descent a malfunction in Joe’s right hand glove caused his hand to swell to more than twice its size but the pioneer carried out the exercise unheeded by the pain. Kittenger was actually directly involved with Felix’s ‘Red Bull Stratos’ project in which he was the man seen guiding and talking with him before and during his flight. Having somebody with you that has experienced similar sensations much have been invaluable to Felix. What about those true pioneers risking their lives so that we humans can understand our surroundings?

One man that pushed himself to such extremes was Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov. During the late 1980s and early 1990’s Valeri spent a combined time in space of 22 months. Polyakov, a Dr of medicine spent his time orbiting the planet testing drugs and equipment for use on Earth and for future use in space missions. Valeri’s biggest and most commendable achievement was when he returned from the space station Mir after 437 days above Earth. No human before or since has collected such an astonishing record of time in space. Valeri pushed his mind as well as his body, not necessarily for the purpose of endurance, but that information will prove invaluable in missions to come.

The time in space that Valeri experience would have felt somewhat of a luxury to previous pioneers in space exploration. Everybody is familiar with the members of the Apollo 11 crew, the first men on the moon, and no one more famous so than the late, great Neil Armstrong. Neil as well as Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were the first humans to set foot on another world when they touched down on the lunar surface in 1969. Countless years of practice and preparation still could not have compared to the experiences those men felt as they strolled the dusty Moon. Neil, Buzz and Michael, as well as the technicians at NASA, set a marker down for human exploration that will take some beating. Neil Armstrong’s death in August of this year upset the world as human’s lost a courageous and outstanding member of their race. The bravery that these men shared is rare but thankfully will continue on like it has, regardless of the dangers.

These men all share something in common in which they have all ignored the severe dangers involved with exiting our protective shield, we call the atmosphere, and seen the Earth like most of us will never witness. No catalog like this would be complete, however, without one of the most inspirational and commendable humans ever to grace this planet. Yuri Gagarin.

Yuri Gagarin was a Russian cosmonaut born in a town called Gzhatsk in 1934. After some years in the Soviet Air Force Gagarin was selected along with other candidates into the Soviet space program. He excelled and was eventually chosen to be Russia’s first cosmonaut. After months of training Yuri Gagarin finally blasted his way into human history when on the 12th April 1961 he became the first human in space as well as the first to orbit the Earth. Nothing could have prepared him for what was going to happen. There was no space flight manual or Soviet space program protocol to go by, Yuri was on his own.  After just under an hour and a half Gagarin returned to Earth’s surface to the applause and admiration of his colleagues not to mention that of future generations to come. The audacity that this man showed in the face of a completely unknown experience speaks volumes for that of what humans can achieve. Bravery on an unprecedented level that should never be forgotten. One way Russia made sure that his incredible feat was cemented in history was by changing the name of his boyhood town from Gzhatsk, to ‘Gagarin’ in 1968 after his tragic death.

Similarities in each of these men can be difficult to find as each was under different eras in space flight and exploration because one man’s experiences outweighs another. However, all should share the purest of admiration and respect of their fellow man as if it was not for these people, super humans if you will, our species will be forever pinned to the surface of this Earth.

[COSMIC BODIES] – When Galaxies Collide

16 Sep

Collisions within the Universe are essential for its continued existence. Mass explosions and impacts will endure to take place like they have done for over 13 Billion years since the Universe’s birth. Asteroids, moons, planets and even stars all go through this process of death and re-birth via impacts, but what about whole clusters of stars? Even galaxies some 200 million light years across are also victim to this force of nature. What are the consequences and what has this got to do with us?

Our galaxy the Milky Way sits across the sky as a smokey band of stars and nebulae. From the Southern Hemisphere you can see this band stream elegantly above the horizon. Obviously it is difficult for ourselves to see our galaxy side on, so we take from examples of similar galaxies of size and characteristics. We live within what is known as a ‘barrel spiral galaxy’ consisting of up to 400 billion stars, some 120,000 light years across. Beauty is usually followed by complexity in the cosmos and nothing seems more complex than a system of this many stars heading straight for one another.

Getty Images

Two such systems that are currently entangled together are NGC 4038 and NGC 4039 or ‘Antennae Galaxies’ part of the NGC 4038 collection of galaxies.  Currently this system appears like a heart in the sky, seeming to be interlocked at the centre, sending the outer stars spiraling in tails across the cosmos. This phenomenon started to occur some 700 million years ago and is scheduled to continue for at least the next 400 million. As they continue in this mesmerizing cosmic dance, stars will career past each other at over 650,000 mph. A hurtling mass of stars, moons, planets and cloud will stream past each other narrowly missing while chaotically disrupting the laws of physics.

Magnetic fields will be thrown upside down and around and round, climates will be thrown into turmoil as atmospheres are ripped from the surfaces of moons and planets. This vision of hell is hard enough to compromise let alone imagine. The chances of life surviving while under this gravitational entanglement seems unlikely and most certainly impossible when you consider the ‘Stephan’s Quintet’ collective or ‘Pandora’s Cluster’.

Getty Images

Named after it’s discoverer Edouard Stephan in 1877, ‘Stephan’s Quintet’ is a major galaxy cluster which features 4 out of 5 close galaxies combining into quite a spectacular tango of stars. Found within the Pegasus constellation these four galaxies span a distance of 340 Million light years at nearly the same distance from Earth. Pandora’s Cluster (Abell 2744) is a very similar in quantity to Stephan’s, as in the combination of galaxies but they are somewhat different. Pandora’s bunch seems to be at a rather different stage. There are more gases present around the cluster suggesting that friction and gravity have super-heated the space around the collision and somewhat spread out the destruction. Stephan’s Quintet and Pandora’s Cluster are marvelous examples of the sheer power and force the Universe has to offer. The force that goes into these types of collisions has the same amount of energy as the expulsion of more than 100 Million Supernovae. Unbelievable.

Positives to take away from these cataclysmic events are that in actual fact collisions are extremely rare between the stars and planets that populate these regions. It is hard to believe that an event of this size and quantity of objects, that nothing hits one another. Well it is that fact of size again. Infrequent collisions indicate that the distances between each star are still to great to affect each other. However, being in the middle of one of these events is not good news and our planet, like millions of others it is on course for a cosmic tango with death.

Our galaxy ‘The Milky Way’ is heading straight for our neighboring spiral galaxy, ‘Andromeda’ at over 310,000 mph with no brakes. Both galaxies tails will interlock first twisting into one another as the force of gravity builds and builds between all the smaller masses inside. Planets will start to spin and distort with the force pushed upon them by an invisible nature. Magnetic fields protecting any sort of biospheres or atmosphere will be torn from their surfaces. Unsettled centrifugal forces will reverse orbits, disrupt cores and tear apart worlds. Stars will heat up and expand outwards away to the external reaches of their solar systems engulfing everything in the already uninhabitable heat.

Getty Images

For the moment we are safe, from Andromeda at least, this collision isn’t scheduled to take place for at least another 4 Billion years, more than a quarter of the existence of the entire Universe.

Regardless of the small chances of stars colliding it is still a reality. This is sill however not the end of the world (providing no planets are involved). Collisions of this power and energy will eventually settle into new nebulae creating hundreds if not thousands of new stars.

Collisions of this magnitude breads life and death into the cosmos. Where there is catastrophe in clashes there is creation within the remnants.

WOW! SETI still hunts ET

20 Aug

Is man alone in the Universe? This is a question that many want answered, but just how difficult is it to find ET? There is, it seems, an infinite amount of stars visible from Earth and along with most of those stars come orbiting planets and moons.  So the possibility of life is great, but there is a difference between microbial, complex and intelligent life. We as Humans are fortunate enough to have lasted this long to become somewhat intelligent, so why have we not found a species like us out there?

Well the problem lies in the distances in space. People, Spaceships and radio signals all take time to traverse the Universe and when we measure these distances in light it becomes clear how much slower every other element is.  Unfortunately Humans do not have the capabilities to travel between the stars but we are exploiting all other means in getting as close as we can. NASA has provided us with telescopes to peer among the cosmos for decades. This institution has become our eyes and SETI are our ears.

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), is a collection of institutions and operations set out to look for life that has evolved to a similar state to our own. This institute is comprised by some of the most advance technologies on offer. One of which is the Allen Telescope Array at the University of California, Berkeley. Made of an eventual 350 radio telescopes this facility is be able to listen to extensive regions of the universe in the hope to receive a response.

Many of SETI’s projects are similar to this Array. Signals covering the entire wave spectrum are listened out for in the hope that somewhere out there someone or something has got the radio on.

SETI have been listening for over 50 years now and still nothing has been heard. Or has it?

Thirty-five years ago this week a signal was detected by a volunteer astronomer at OSU SETI and quickly gained fame as the strongest signal ever detected. Jerry Ehman was the man who found the strong signal amongst and otherwise standard data read, he circled the figures and wrote the word WOW next to it. Later dubbed the ‘WOW! Signal’ many had hoped that SETI had stumbled across the very first indication of intellectual life. That was on August 15th 1977, many additional attempts to locate that signal have failed but that patch of sky still remains a hotspot for SETI.

The fact is predicting where to look is the problem. We may have already looked in a place where once a great species did live or will live in the future. The truth is a civilization can last for millennia and be wiped out in a second just like our own might. Whose to say there isn’t a civilization just like ours in the Universe? Or that there has been before or will be in the future? With Space coexisting with time across such vast distances it will be near on impossible to find ET with the TV on.

Jill Tarter, former director of SETI sums it up perfectly when she explains her work and the task SETI are up against

 …the amount of searching that we’ve done in 50 years is equivalent to scooping one 8-ounce glass out of the Earth’s ocean, looking and seeing if you caught a fish. No, no fish in that glass? Well, I don’t think you’re going to conclude that there are no fish in the ocean. You just haven’t searched very well yet….

The Shuttle Fleet: Where Are They Now?

23 Jul Getty Images

It was a mere one year ago that NASA’s Atlantis orbiter landed and docked to see the end of the inspirational Space Shuttle Program. After 30 years transiting from Earth to the International Space Station (ISS) the last three shuttles with space flight time have finally all taken refuge on terra firma. Gaze upon these magnificent machines as they once gazed upon you in orbit above our planet. The shuttles will be housed from coast to coast across America surely to inspire the span of the nation. So where will these craft end up?

Space Shuttle Discovery, the first of the three to hang up its boosters, will be on show at the National Air and Space Museum annex at Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia. There it will be housed with some of the most famous and innovative aeronautic machines ever created and conceived by human kind. Discovery was the first to fly after the disaster of the Challenger shuttle in 1986. Now the ship can rest safely in the appreciation and awe of those that choose to visit.

Endeavour has taken shelter on the other side of the USA at the California Science Center in Los Angeles ever since its last mission in May 2011. Separate to its siblings, Endeavour will enlighten thousands of visitors on the West Coast as they flock to catch a glimpse of history. It will sit proudly as the museums centre piece and crowd pleaser.

When Atlantis landed after the final STS mission on the 21st July 2011 many were surprised to have even seen it leave the Earth. Unfortunately this ship was scheduled to be scrapped and used for parts for the remaining craft on the program. Luckily and somewhat under economic strain, NASA decided to extend its tenure and Atlantis ended up delivering some very important loads to the ISS.

Atlantis will remain were her journey began at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, under the observation of those that constructed and flew within all these grand and glorious machines.