Tuesday, February 19, 2013

near earth objects

last weekend was a big one for objects moving near and through earth's atmosphere!  the event many people had been looking forward to was the close pass of asteroid 2012 DA 14

it passed overhead during the second night of the return to operations for the 4-meter telescope on siding spring observatory after the fires swept through a month ago.  here are the images captured of DA14, which you can watch as a video below, put together by angel lopez-sanchez

colin legg made this lovely video of the event from his view in western australia.  what strikes me is just how many things are moving.   the points of light that all stay still relative to each other are all distant stars.   the asteroid is visible coming into the view from the left side, and a meteor flashes brightly as it disintegrates. all the other faint moving things are man-made satellites (i'm pretty sure)...

Night Wanderers from Colin Legg on Vimeo.

the serendipitous capture of the meteor is great because it highlights that small rocks are burning up in our atmosphere all the time.

and this brings me to the next big event, which trumped the asteroid thanks to the dramatic views and unexpected havoc it wreaked: the 17 meter wide meteorite that streaked across the sky to a land in russia about 8 hours before asteroid 2012 DA14 went by.

thanks to quick thinking at the time of the events and some forensic astronomy, it's clear that the building-sized asteroid, the huge surprise russian meteorite, and even the meteor that shot over the san fransisco bay area the next day, have nothing to do with each other and should not be cause of any "the world is ending" level of worry.  (please)

of course when we imagine asteroid impacts, we think about the big one that wiped out the dinosaurs and wonder "why isnt NASA protecting us?"  at least some members of the US government are asking similar questions and also recognize that we did predict asteroid 2012 DA 14, something we would not have been able to do decades ago because we just didnt have the technology. 

NASA has a near earth asteroid program which is always tracking objects that present potential risk.  but of course more funding is needed to continue these programs and develop technologies to change the potential path of an asteroid headed toward earth, if that is the best course of action for humans.   maybe americans should consider investing more than the current 0.5% of its federal budget towards NASA ($17 billion of the $3.7 trillion US budget), considering it was investing 4% at the time of the space race.

NASA isnt the only solution, though, and i think we should be funding private companies as well to develop telescopes and other technologies.

in the meantime, enjoy the show from the sky!

1 comment:

heroineworshipper said...

Programs that pay a small number of the top people to solve a hard problem don't normally get voter approval anymore. The program has to be accessible to everyone equally or it only gets 0.5%.