The Asteroid Impact Simulation Has Ended in Disaster

Science

Gizmodo 30 April, 2021 - 02:56pm 24 views

Will an asteroid hit Earth?

Currently none are predicted (the single highest probability impact currently listed is ~7 m asteroid 2010 RF12, which is due to pass earth in September 2095 with only a 5% predicted chance of impacting). Currently prediction is mainly based on cataloging asteroids years before they are due to impact. wikipedia.orgImpact event

Two years ago, the organizers of this event accidentally destroyed New York City, and now it’s time for a border region intersecting Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic to meet the same fate. When I covered the early days of this week’s simulation on Wednesday, the gathered experts were weighing their options as a 460-foot-wide asteroid barreled toward Central Europe.

This may sound like a grim role-playing game, but it’s very serious business. Led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, the asteroid impact simulation is meant to prepare scientists, planners, and key decision makers for the real thing, should it ever occur. The tabletop exercise began this past Monday, and it’s happening virtually at the 7th IAA Planetary Defense Conference, which is being hosted by the UN’s Office for Outer Space Affairs with help from ESA.

“Practice and training for different situations is an important part of preparedness, whether it’s done by medical professionals or sports teams or artistic performers,” Andy Rivkin, a research astronomer at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, explained in an email. “For planetary defense, this is our chance to get people together with different expertise who don’t often get the chance to work together and look at different scenarios. This can help greatly in identifying important issues that we might not identify while working as small groups or individuals.”

Rivkin, who participated in the event, is the co-leader of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, which aims to smash a spacecraft into asteroid Dimorphos in late 2022 (for real). By crashing into an asteroid, a kinetic impactor like DART can “change the arrival time of the asteroid so it doesn’t arrive at the crossroads the same time as Earth, Rivkin said, adding that his group is testing what “happens in detail when you change the speed of an asteroid,” in this case Dimorphos.

A distinguishing feature about this year’s simulation is that the asteroid came out of the blue, so to speak. Named “2021 PDC,” it was discovered just six months before its scheduled rendezvous with Earth. The odds of an impact were initially assessed at 1 in 2,500, but that was bumped to 1 in 100 during the first day of the simulation. By Day 2, the odds were ramped up to a full 100%, with the impact site identified as being in Central Europe.

For me, a key takeaway from this year’s simulation was the dramatic way in which key variables, such as the probable impact area and affected population size, were affected by new observations. At one point, for example, North Africa, the UK, and much of Scandinavia were inside the possible strike zone.

The participants in the simulation deemed it impossible to deploy a mitigation effort, such as a kinetic impactor or nuclear bomb, given the short timeframe—a consideration not lost on planetary geologist Angela Stickle, another DART team member who participated in the exercise.

“The timeline for deflection is important,” explained Stickle, leader of the DART impact modeling working group, in an email. “Kinetic impactors work best when they are done years in advance, so the small push that you give has enough time to really change the incoming orbit away from the Earth, so even if we could have launched a kinetic impactor spacecraft like DART in the tabletop exercise scenario, we might have been too late to really steer it off course.”

Previous tabletop exercises provided many years of warning time, but not this one. Accordingly, the focus of exercise was geared toward the disaster response and the importance of identifying dangerous asteroids in advance.

For Andy Cheng, chief scientist and DART investigation team co-lead at Johns Hopkins, the teachable moment came when they all learned that the fictitious asteroid had actually zipped past Earth seven years earlier, but it wasn’t discovered “because there were not ground- or space-based telescopic assets in place that would have discovered it,” he explained in an email. Had it been detected back then, “there would have been more than sufficient warning time to mount space missions to characterize it and to mitigate the threat,” such as with a DART-like mission.

Accordingly, the tabletop simulation became an exercise in predicting the possible damage that might be inflicted by the asteroid and where that damage might occur. This wasn’t an easy task, given many uncertainties about the offending object, such as its size and physical makeup. Initial estimates placed the asteroid at between 115 feet (35 m) and 2,300 feet (700 m) in length, followed by a more refined estimate of 460 feet (140 m), which “significantly reduces the worst-case size and corresponding worst-case impact energies,” according to the Day 3 report.

The fictitious impact would occur on October 20, 2021 at 17:02:25 UTC, give or take one second. This level of precision is really fascinating, and it demonstrates the high degree to which we’d be prepared for that fateful moment, allowing people in the affected and surrounding areas to evacuate or take cover.

Images taken by the Goldstone Observatory the day before constrained the size of the asteroid to 345 feet (105 m) across. It was not as big as feared, but still big enough to cause serious damage. For Mallory DeCoster, a systems and mechanical engineer and DART investigation team member from Johns Hopkins who also participated in the exercise, the ongoing uncertainty about the asteroid’s size proved troublesome.

The fake asteroid was projected to strike Earth at speeds reaching 9.5 miles per second (15 km/s), or 34,000 miles per hour (55,000 km/hr). Ground zero was predicted to reside within a 14-mile (23-km) range, but this number was expected to shrink by half in the coming days as the asteroid got nearer. The impact site was centered near the borders of three countries: Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria.

This area is mostly rural, and no estimates were given about the size of the affected population. In a worst-case scenario, the asteroid would inflict damage extending out for 93 miles (150 km) in all directions. A threat map indicated the regions designated as unsurvivable, critical, severe, and serious. Prague, a city of 1.27 million people, resides on the outer border of the serious zone, while Munich appeared to be out of harm’s way.

Had this situation been real, the International Asteroid Warning Network—a group that detects, tracks, and characterizes potentially hazardous asteroids—would have disseminated this information in accordance with an UN General Assembly resolution, according to today’s report. This would be to done to “ensure that all countries ... are aware of potential threats,” and to emphasize the need for developing “effective emergency response and disaster management in the event of a near-Earth object impact,” according to the resolution.

“I think DART can be a good addition to this as an example of how we are preparing and testing the needed technology; the mission provides a good opportunity to have public communication and engagement,” wrote Stickle. “The exercise also showed the importance of being able to rapidly deploy kinetic impactors in an emergency scenario.” That said, she described the six-month timeline as being “pretty sporty,” as they’d have to act really fast, even with a mitigation solution ready to go.

Mallory DeCoster, systems and mechanical engineer and DART investigation team member also chimed in, saying we “really need to find and track more asteroids,” adding that this isn’t surprising, “but this short-warning-time scenario definitely highlights the importance of this.”

And with that the roundtable was complete, as there was really nothing left to do but wait for the asteroid to strike. It’s all very morbid, but this year’s simulation proved to be worthwhile. Hopefully these exercises will continue to remain within the realm of fiction.

I doubt I’d save the planet, but if there were many many people playing with a co-op mode for the different regions of the globe...something useful might come up.

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Straight Out of Armageddon: NASA Tests Asteroid Impact Before Crashing Spacecraft Into One

PEOPLE 30 April, 2021 - 12:07pm

The space agency is currently working on a mission that will test whether scientists can change the motion of an asteroid in space — a project reminiscent of the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon.

Though Armageddon focused on an attempt to blow up an asteroid before it wiped out life as we know it on planet Earth, NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is taking a different approach.

"The mission aims to shift an asteroid's orbit through kinetic impact – specifically, by impacting a spacecraft into the smaller member of the binary asteroid system Didymos to change its orbital speed," NASA said in a press release.

The goal is for the DART spacecraft to purposely crash into the smaller asteroid Dimorphos as it orbits around Didymos, hopefully altering its orbital period by several minutes and giving scientists on Earth enough time to observe and measure it using telescopes.

Though the DART spacecraft launch window was originally slated for this July, it was recently pushed back — though the kinetic impact test is still scheduled to happen on or around Oct. 1, 2022.

Meanwhile, scientists from around the globe got another peek at what it might look like should an asteroid pose a threat to Earth at the International Academy of Astronauts Planetary Defense Conference 2021 in Vienna this week.

The bi-annual conference is meant to unite experts from around the globe to talk about the threat asteroids and comets might pose to Earth, and how we can be better prepared should one arise.

Scientists spent the week working on a planetary defense exercise, a completely fictional scenario meant to help them develop a plan for the possibility of an asteroid hurtling toward Earth.

"Each time we participate in an exercise of this nature, we learn more about who the key players are in a disaster event, and who needs to know what information, and when," Lindley Johnson, NASA's Planetary Defense Officer, said in a statement. "These exercises ultimately help the planetary defense community communicate with each other and with our governments to ensure we are all coordinated should a potential impact threat be identified in the future."

In the case of this year's exercise, scientists were initially told that an asteroid was found on April 19, and may hit Earth on Oct. 20.

Though the probability of impact was initially said to be just 1 in 2,500, as the days went by, that probability increased to 100 percent as more "information" about the asteroid was discovered.

Fictional updates said the asteroid would likely affect more than 580,000 people in central Europe, and that its entry velocity would be 34,000 mph.

As the experts worked through what a plan might look like, takeaways listed on the conference site included the fact that a "short-warning scenario poses extreme challenges for in-space mitigation."

"The large end of the estimated size range becomes the dominant factor in a scenario: capabilities that can put an upper bound on the size would be invaluable," the exercise said. "Precoveries could play a major role in assessing the impact probability of a threatening object, and in helping to constrain the impact location."

Just like DART, the exercise echoed the plot of Armageddon closely. In the hit film, a group is sent on a tenuous mission to dispose of a dangerous asteroid that's heading for Earth. Armageddon was directed by Michael Bay and stars Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, whose father, Steven Tyler, sang the soundtrack anthem, Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."

The film approached the disposal of an asteroid a bit differently than NASA — their plan was to drill a deep shaft into the asteroid and explode in two it using a nuclear weapon.

Though our heroes face obstacles along the way, they (spoiler alert for a 23-year-old movie!) of course get the job done, though not without losing a few key crew members along the way.

The nightmare of a catastrophic threat from an asteroid was explored in another 1998 film: Deep Impact — starring Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell and Morgan Freeman — was released in May 1998, prior to Armageddon's release that July.

Despite their plot similarities, both hit No. 1 at the box office, with Deep Impact eventually making $359 million, and Armageddon topping it with $553 million, per The Hollywood Reporter.

If NASA's news makes you nostalgic for the films, you can stream them now, with Deep Impact playing on Amazon Prime, and Armageddon available to rent via Google Play, Apple TV and Amazon Prime.

An asteroid traveled for 23 million years before crashing into Earth — and now scientists know where it came from

CBS News 30 April, 2021 - 06:02am

The asteroid, called 2018 LA, shot across the sky like a fireball before landing in Botswana on June 2, 2018. Researchers subsequently recovered 23 meteorites from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a huge area known for its diverse wildlife.

"The meteorite is named 'Motopi Pan' after a local watering hole," Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe, the senior curator of the Botswana Geoscience Institute, said in a statement, referring to the first sample they found. "This meteorite is a national treasure of Botswana."

Scientists first spotted the asteroid using the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey, which tracks asteroids as part of NASA's Planetary Defense program. It marked just the second time scientists have been able to study an asteroid in space before it reaches Earth — typically, they don't know about them until after it's happened. 

At the time, the asteroid was estimated to be about 6 feet across — small enough to safely break apart in Earth's atmosphere. It arrived at the fast speed of 38,000 miles per hour, according to NASA.

"This is only the second time we have spotted an asteroid in space before it hit Earth over land," said Jenniskens. "The first was asteroid 2008 TC3 in Sudan ten years earlier." 

Through precisely mapping the boulder-sized asteroid's orbit and path to Earth, as well as analyzing the samples at the University of Helsinki, researchers determined that they belong to the group of Howardite-Eucrite-Diogenite (HED) meteorites, named for their composition. They published their findings in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science

This group of meteorites is likely to have come from Vesta, the second-largest asteroid in our solar system, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

"Combining the observations of the small asteroid in space with information gleaned from the meteorites shows it likely came from Vesta, second-largest asteroid in our Solar System and target of NASA's DAWN mission," said lead author Peter Jenniskens. "Billions of years ago, two giant impacts on Vesta created a family of larger, more dangerous asteroids. The newly recovered meteorites gave us a clue on when those impacts might have happened."

Researchers now believe the Veneneia impact basin formed about 4.2 billion years ago. 

Researchers observed more diversity in the appearance of the meteorites than expected. They classified the asteroid as a breccia, a mixture of rock pieces from various parts on Vesta. 

"We studied the petrography and mineral chemistry of five of these meteorites and confirmed that they belong to the HED group," said co-author Roger Gibson. "Overall, we classified the material that asteroid 2018 LA contained as being Howardite, but some individual fragments had more affinity to Diogenites and Eucrites."

One-third of all HED meteorites that arrive on Earth were ejected from the asteroid approximately 22 million years ago. 

Further research "showed that this meteorite too had been in space as a small object for about 23 million years," said Kees Welten of UC Berkeley, "but give or take 4 million years." 

Researchers say they are excited to uncover more secrets surrounding the mysterious Vesta asteroid. A more recent expedition, in November 2020, led to researchers locating another Motopi Pan meteorite — at 2.3 ounces, it's the largest found to date. 

Sophie Lewis is a social media producer and trending writer for CBS News, focusing on space and climate change.

Copyright © 2021 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved.

Scientists trace origins of 23-million-year-old asteroid that hit Earth

Yahoo News 30 April, 2021 - 06:02am

The asteroid, called 2018 LA, shot across the sky like a fireball before landing in Botswana on June 2, 2018. Researchers subsequently recovered 23 meteorites from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a huge area known for its diverse wildlife.

"The meteorite is named 'Motopi Pan' after a local watering hole," Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe, the senior curator of the Botswana Geoscience Institute, said in a statement, referring to the first sample they found. "This meteorite is a national treasure of Botswana."

Scientists first spotted the asteroid using the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey, which tracks asteroids as part of NASA's Planetary Defense program. It marked just the second time scientists have been able to study an asteroid in space before it reaches Earth — typically, they don't know about them until after it's happened.

At the time, the asteroid was estimated to be about 6 feet across — small enough to safely break apart in Earth's atmosphere. It arrived at the fast speed of 38,000 miles per hour, according to NASA.

"This is only the second time we have spotted an asteroid in space before it hit Earth over land," said Jenniskens. "The first was asteroid 2008 TC3 in Sudan ten years earlier."

Through precisely mapping the boulder-sized asteroid's orbit and path to Earth, as well as analyzing the samples at the University of Helsinki, researchers determined that they belong to the group of Howardite-Eucrite-Diogenite (HED) meteorites, named for their composition. They published their findings in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

This group of meteorites is likely to have come from Vesta, the second-largest asteroid in our solar system, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

"Combining the observations of the small asteroid in space with information gleaned from the meteorites shows it likely came from Vesta, second-largest asteroid in our Solar System and target of NASA's DAWN mission," said lead author Peter Jenniskens. "Billions of years ago, two giant impacts on Vesta created a family of larger, more dangerous asteroids. The newly recovered meteorites gave us a clue on when those impacts might have happened."

Researchers now believe the Veneneia impact basin formed about 4.2 billion years ago.

Researchers observed more diversity in the appearance of the meteorites than expected. They classified the asteroid as a breccia, a mixture of rock pieces from various parts on Vesta.

"We studied the petrography and mineral chemistry of five of these meteorites and confirmed that they belong to the HED group," said co-author Roger Gibson. "Overall, we classified the material that asteroid 2018 LA contained as being Howardite, but some individual fragments had more affinity to Diogenites and Eucrites."

One-third of all HED meteorites that arrive on Earth were ejected from the asteroid approximately 22 million years ago.

Further research "showed that this meteorite too had been in space as a small object for about 23 million years," said Kees Welten of UC Berkeley, "but give or take 4 million years."

Researchers say they are excited to uncover more secrets surrounding the mysterious Vesta asteroid. A more recent expedition, in November 2020, led to researchers locating another Motopi Pan meteorite — at 2.3 ounces, it's the largest found to date.

Shooting stars will grace the night sky during the first week of May as a meteor shower, which has origins that can be traced back to one of the most famous comets in recent history, peaks. The Eta Aquarids meteor shower will reach its climax on the night of Tuesday, May 4, into the early morning of Wednesday, May 5, the first of three big astronomical events in May. This is the second meteor shower in under three weeks, providing a great opportunity to skywatchers who missed out on April's Lyrid meteor shower, which peaked on Earth Day. The term "shooting stars" can be misleading as the objects people will see streaking across the sky are not stars at all, but rather tiny pieces of dust and debris that have broken off a comet or asteroid and burn up while entering Earth's atmosphere. The comet responsible for the space dust that sparks the annual Eta Aquarids is none other than Halley's Comet. Halley's Comet pays a visit to the inner solar system about once every 75 years, putting on a show in the night sky and leaving behind a trail of debris. This debris is typically small and is not much bigger than a grain of sand. Every year in early May, the Earth passes through part of this field of debris left behind by the comet's previous orbits around the sun, setting off the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Debris from Halley's Comet is also responsible for the Orionids meteor shower, which peaks every October, although it is typically not as strong as the Eta Aquarids. These meteor showers are the closest that stargazers will come to seeing Halley's Comet until 2061 when it once again zips through the inner solar system. Comet P/Halley as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller, Easter Island, part of the International Halley Watch (IHW) Large Scale Phenomena Network. (Image/NASA) The Eta Aquarids is the best meteor shower of the entire year for the Southern Hemisphere, outperforming popular showers later in the year, such as the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December. These other showers are still visible south of the equator but with fewer meteors when compared to the northern latitudes. Between 40 and 60 meteors per hour may be counted from areas south of the equator, averaging nearly one a minute, but people across the Northern Hemisphere shouldn't snub this event. "From the equator northward, they usually only produce medium rates of 10-30 per hour just before dawn," the American Meteor Society said. This is similar to the rates seen during the Lyrids. Regardless of location, the best time to view the meteor shower will be after 2 a.m., local time, as long as the weather cooperates. CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE ACCUWEATHER APP In North America, the best weather is expected across the Southwest, although people will need to travel far away from the city lights of places like Los Angeles or Phoenix for the best viewing conditions. Folks across much of the rest of the United States and into Canada will not be as fortunate as a pair of far-reaching storm systems spread disruptive clouds over large areas. If poor conditions are in the offing for Tuesday night, stargazers can try their luck later in the week if the weather improves. "Activity is good for a week centered [around] the night of maximum activity," the AMS said. After the Eta Aquarids come and go, there will be a nearly three-month period where no moderate meteor showers unfold in the night sky. However, as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait. On the night of July 28, two meteor showers will peak at the same time, the Southern Delta Aquarids and the Alpha Capricornids. These will be an appetizer for the Perseids in early August, arguably the best meteor shower of the entire year. Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier, Spectrum, FuboTV, Philo, and Verizon Fios.

The building was used to determine mean sea level and, from that, heights across the UK.

Humans have never traveled to another planet. We've visited Earth's moon but despite sending rovers, orbiters, and probes to places like Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus, we've never even sent humans to orbit another planet, much less land and see the sights. Mars is definitely the best candidate for human exploration, and space agencies like NASA are already laying the groundwork for those future missions. One of the ways scientists are preparing for crewed missions to Mars is by testing what it might be like to explore the planet's most interesting features while wearing protective gear. That's exactly what is happening at HI-SEAS, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, located on Hawaii's Big Island. The site is a research location and a Mars habitat analog, meaning that researchers and groups can use the location to simulate what it might be like on Mars or the Moon. Scientists recently set up shop there and explored lava tubes on the island that are similar to what astronauts might explore when they finally make the trip to the Red Planet. Lava tubes exist on Mars and the Moon just as they do on Earth. They're big, hollow, and could hold secrets about whatever world they're a part of, while also being a hot spot for the search for extraterrestrial life. If life existed on Mars, it may have persisted for longer in places like long-dormant lava tubes before eventually dying off. But exploring these cave-like structures can be difficult even with lightweight gear, so understanding what astronauts might face when trying to study them wearing spacesuits is important for future planning. "Doing research in suits under EVA constraints makes everything much more difficult to do, and it all takes three times longer," Michaela Musilova, director of the HI-SEAS project, said in a statement."We need to train extensively on Earth to figure out the best methods and create the best EVA suits so that we'll be able to perform this kind of research on the moon and Mars one day." And the lava tubes on the Moon and Mars aren't just great research locations, they might also end up being home to space travelers as well. Radiation from space will be a very serious danger for the first travelers to venture from Earth to the surface of Mars. Building a structure to protect against cosmic radiation is a top priority, but hiding out in a dormant lava tube with a thick ceiling of rock could provide even better protection. Those first interplanetary travelers may end up making their makeshift Mars homes inside of lava tubes for added defense against the elements. We're still at least a decade or two away from humans having the technology to safely send a crewed mission to Mars. Whenever it does happen, it's nice to know that there are some shelters on the Red Planet waiting for them.

NASA says it’ll hold up on its payments to SpaceX for developing its Starship super-rocket as a lunar lander while the Government Accountability Office sorts out challenges to the $2.9 billion contract award from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture as well as from Alabama-based Dynetics. Dynetics and a space industry team led by Blue Origin submitted their protests to the GAO this week, contending that the award unfairly favored SpaceX. The three teams spent months working on proposals in hopes of winning NASA’s support for developing a landing system capable of putting astronauts on the moon’s surface by as… Read More

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Kyiv on May 5-6 to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to "reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression," the State Department announced Friday.Why it matters: Blinken will be the most senior-ranking U.S. official to visit Ukraine during the Biden administration. The trip comes in the aftermath of massive Russia military exercises near the Ukrainian border, and could precede a summit this summer between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with Axios Markets. Subscribe for freeContext: Russia said it was partially ending its large military build up near Ukraine's eastern border last week and withdrew troops, though it will leave armored vehicles there until the fall, according to the New York Times.Ukrainian troops are still battling Russian-backed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, and Russian troops continue to illegally occupy Crimea.Tensions between the U.S. and Russia are running high, with both countries expelling diplomats and imposing sanctions in recent weeks after the U.S. accused Russia of an array of destabilizing cyber activities.What they're saying: Secretary Blinken will "encourage continued progress on Ukraine’s institutional reform agenda, particularly anti-corruption action, which is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity, and Euro-Atlantic future," the State Department said.The big picture: Blinken's Ukrainian trip will come after he attends the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting in London on May 3-5. President Biden will meet with G7, NATO and EU allies in England and Brussels in June as part of his first overseas trip.Go deeper ... Scoop: Leaked Ukraine memo reveals scope of Russia's aggressionMore from Axios: Sign up to get the latest market trends with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free

China on Thursday launched the main module of its first permanent space station that will host astronauts long term, the latest success for a program that has realized a number of its growing ambitions in recent years. The launch begins the first of 11 missions necessary to complete, supply and crew the station by the end of next year. China’s space program has also recently brought back the first new lunar samples in more than 40 years and expects to land a probe and rover on the surface of Mars later next month.

Despite the odds, the pandemic seems to only be strengthening the collector car market!

Peter Gleick argues there’s an urgent need to reshape our relationship to water: ‘There is enormous untapped potential for conservation’ The Enterprise Bridge crosses over a section of Lake Oroville in Oroville, California. Water levels at the lake have dropped to 42% of its capacity. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images California is once again in a drought, just four years after the last dry spell decimated ecosystems, fueled megafires and left many rural communities without well water. Droughts are a natural part of the landscape in the American west, and the region has in many ways been shaped by its history of drought. But the climate scientist Peter Gleick argues that the droughts California is facing now are different than the ones that have historically cycled through the Golden State. “These are not accidental, strange dry periods,” said Gleick, the co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a global thinktank that has become a leading voice on water issues in California and around the world. “They’re increasingly the norm.” Gleick this week spoke with the Guardian about the history of drought in the west, and the urgency of reshaping our relationship to water. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. The California governor has declared a drought emergency in two counties, a few years after the state faced its last major drought from 2011-2017. Are more frequent dry periods part of a new normal? The last drought was a wake up call to the effects of climate change. For the first time, the public began to make the connection that humans were impacting the climate and the water cycle – affecting the intensity and severity of our droughts. Since that drought, we have learned some lessons about improving water efficiency, and reducing waste. We had serious conversations about things like getting rid of grass lawns for example. But we still haven’t learned the fundamental message: that these are not accidental, strange dry periods. They’re increasingly the norm. We better start to assume that the sooner we put in place policies to save water, the better off we are. We don’t seem to have learned that there still is enormous untapped potential for conservation and efficiency despite our past improvements. If the last drought helped people wake up to a worsening climate crisis, how did other defining droughts reshape our understanding of water in the region? There were the dust bowl years of the 1930s, when thousands and thousands of people were dislocated from their homes in the western US because of severe drought that decimated agriculture and triggered deadly dust storms. Peter Gleick, the co-founder of the Pacific Institute. Photograph: Courtesy of Peter Gleick After drought in the 50s, we started building big water infrastructure like dams and aqueducts in California, in part because we knew that populations were growing in the coastal areas very rapidly and that we had to expand access to water supply. That infrastructure brought enormous benefits, but it came with massive costs that we didn’t appreciate at the time. In particular, it really started to disrupt our ecology. Following the dust bowl, probably the worst drought we experienced in California was the 1976-1977 drought, which is considered the state’s worst two-year drought on record. That drought really, really showed us, OK, we’re vulnerable to extreme dry weather, despite having built these dams and the aqueducts to help store, conserve and distribute water. It showed us that massive population and economic growth has put new pressures on our water resources. I’d say that was our first real wake up call. Of course, climate change wasn’t a contributor to the dust bowl in the 1930s. But it seems there are some major lessons we could learn from that period about how badly designed policies can really intensify natural disaster. Back then, it was farmers’ decision to plow up millions of acres of native grassland, and plant water-intensive crops that caused the soil to erode and stirred up the deadly, devastating dust storms that we associate with that drought. The way we’ve decided to use water in the west has a long, complicated history. Going back to the dust bowl era, until now – at least on paper – agriculture and other industries have far greater rights than anyone else. And that has put an enormous stress on our system. Sure, during the dust bowl, settlers didn’t really understand some crucial things about soil management that we now understand. And we have learned how to make more food with less water. But we never had a rethink of our system of water rights, and how much of our limited water we should be spending on agriculture versus leaving in the natural ecosystem. Those were lessons we should have learned during the dust bowl, and, frankly we are still having to learn. Going back to the dust bowl era, until now – at least on paper – agriculture and other industries have far greater rights than anyone else During the last drought, we saw the death of about 163m trees, and that dead vegetation helped fuel some of the worst fires in the state’s history. Even though research has found that conditions during the last drought were actually worse than the dust bowl – a lot of people in the west who lived through it wouldn’t describe it as being so bad. Good infrastructure has insulated a lot of Californians from really feeling the impacts of drought. In the US, most of us don’t directly experience the consequences of drought the way people in other parts of the world do. How do you measure 100m dead trees and the risk to forest fires that could be attributed to that drought? How do you measure the death of 95% of the Chinook salmon? How do you measure the impact on poor communities who were left without water? We don’t put dollar values on these things, and so we don’t directly see or feel the impact. I don’t want to minimize the impact of the last drought on particular farmers. But the systems that we’ve built mean that even if some fields have to fallow, we can still keep growing during drought years. Even during a severe drought I can turn the water on my tap and, you know, incredibly cheap, pure water comes out. But that’s not the case for many disadvantaged communities in the Central Valley, who couldn’t turn on the tap and get water. They’re the ones suffering most directly from the impacts of extreme drought, but they’re largely invisible to many other Californians. And that’s not the case for our ecosystems and fisheries and forests, which are dying out.

Nasa is so pleased with the success of the Ingenuity helicopter it is extending its mission.

Blue Origin and Dynetics filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office protesting NASA's "unfair" decision to award the moon-lander contract to SpaceX.

Steelers and Patriots picks were among several surprising selections during Thursday's first round of the NFL draft in Cleveland.

The S&P 500 closed at a record high on Thursday, fueled by gains in Facebook following its strong earnings report, while Amazon jumped in extended trade following its quarterly report. Facebook Inc rallied 7.3% to an all-time high after the world's largest social network beat quarterly revenue and profit late on Wednesday. It was its biggest single-day gain in five months and easily contributed the most upside to both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.

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Wall Street ended lower on Friday, with Apple, Alphabet and other tech-related companies weighing on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq despite recent strong quarterly earnings reports. A day after the S&P 500 closed at a record high, Apple , Google-parent Alphabet and Facebook each gave back gains following upbeat quarterly reports this week. Twitter Inc plunged after it offered a tepid revenue forecast for the second quarter, saying user growth could slow as the boost seen during the pandemic fizzles.

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Scientists determine origins of meteorite that traveled 23 million miles to hit Earth

New York Daily News 29 April, 2021 - 10:02pm

The asteroid, labeled 2018 LA, shot across the sky, fireball style, before landing in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana on June 2, 2018. Traveling at 38,000 miles per hour, it shattered into 23 meteorites, several miles above Earth’s surface, NASA said at the time.

They named the first piece they found, a shard of 0.6 ounces.

“The meteorite is named ‘Motopi Pan’ after a local watering hole,” Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe, the senior curator of the Botswana Geoscience Institute, said in a statement from the SETI Institute, whose researchers seek extraterrestrial life. “This meteorite is a national treasure of Botswana.”

Scientists have been seeking to learn the meteorites’ origins, and now they have located its source. They believe it broke off of Vesta, the second-largest asteroid in our solar system, according to a study published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

Before it even hit, the speeding space rock — at about 6 feet across, the size of a boulder — had been sighted by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona “as a faint point of light moving among the stars,” the researchers’ statement said. Catalina scans the skies for just such “Earth-crossing asteroids” under the auspices of NASA’s Planetary Defense program.

“Small meter-sized asteroids are no danger to us, but they hone our skills in detecting approaching asteroids,” Catalina Sky Survey program director Eric Christensen said.

It marked just the second time an incoming asteroid has been spotted in space while still heading toward Earth, SETI Institute meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens said. The information retrieved from it will help scientists fill in some blanks about the solar system’s history and learn ever more about Vesta, which orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid was the target of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which orbited and studied the asteroid on an 11-year mission that ended in late 2018, according to CBS News.

“Billions of years ago, two giant impacts on Vesta created a family of larger, more dangerous asteroids,” Jenniskens said. “The newly recovered meteorites gave us a clue on when those impacts might have happened.”

NASA Simulation: An asteroid lands on Earth - Poland in the area of ​​destruction

SwordsToday.ie 29 April, 2021 - 09:42pm

A large asteroid goes to Earth. It will collide in six months. What to do? Do we have any chance of rescue? NASA decided to examine this, and at the conference organized the Planetary Defense Conference exercise, i.e., simulation and operational possibilities of asteroid collisions with Earth.

It should be noted here that the land is not in danger. Although the scene depicted in the simulation is real in many respects, it is purely imaginary and does not describe the actual impact of the asteroid.

In the simulation case, NASA scientists made several assumptions.

On April 19, 2021, an asteroid with a magnitude of 21.5 was detected and confirmed the next day. It was named 2021 PDC. One day later, the Sentry JPL collision monitoring system and the Clomon system identified several possible dates for the asteroid to hit Earth in the future.

The two systems split the most likely impact date to October 20, 2021 – six months after the object was discovered, but the probability of that happening is small, about 1 in 2,500.

At the time of discovery, very little can be said about the physical features of the 2021 PDC. Scientists are unable to determine the size of the asteroid – based on the measured albedo, it was estimated to vary from 35 to 700 meters.

The orbit of the asteroid is eccentric – from 0.92 AU to 1.6 AU at the nearest point beyond the orbit of Mars. The asteroid’s orbital period is 516 days (1.41 years), and its orbit is inclined at an angle of 16 degrees to the level of the Earth’s orbit.

The 2021 PDC is being closely monitored in the week following its discovery, and as the monitoring dataset grows day by day, the risk of collisions increases. The asteroid is too far away for radars to detect and will not be in range until it is likely to collide in October. Within a few weeks, the risk of a collision rose to about 5%.

In the days following the 2021 PDC asteroid, it will vary in size from 140 to 250 meters and its impact will be 21 percent. It will affect the lives of one million people. This object will affect our planet at an altitude of 800 to 250 km. It will affect the area within a radius of 250 km from the damaged area. The scale of the disaster will be huge.

Participants in the simulation already have all the necessary data and will now plan their next steps. Can the impact be prevented somehow? Can the asteroid be destroyed? Or is it “enough” to evacuate the affected area? The Planetary Defense Conference is still taking place, with participants considering all forms of behavior. It should be noted that New York was not saved during a similar exercise two years ago. Will it be the same this time? What about Poland near the risk area of ​​the 2021 PDC collision?

Prone to fits of apathy. Unable to type with boxing gloves on. Internet advocate. Avid travel enthusiast. Entrepreneur. Music expert.

A 22-Million-Year Journey From the Asteroid Belt to Botswana

The New York Times 29 April, 2021 - 04:06pm

Astronomers reconstructed a space rock’s path before it exploded over southern Africa in 2018 and sprinkled the Kalahari with meteorites.

On the morning of June 2, 2018, an asteroid was seen careening toward us at 38,000 miles per hour. It was going to impact Earth, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Astronomers were beside themselves with excitement.

Five feet long and weighing about the same as an adult African elephant, this space rock posed no threat. But the early detection of this asteroid, only the second to be spotted in space before hitting land, was a good test of our ability to spot larger, more dangerous asteroids. Moreover, it afforded scientists the chance to study the asteroid before its obliteration, quickly narrow down the impact site and obtain some of the most pristine, least weathered meteorite samples around.

Later that day, a fireball almost as bright as the sun illuminated Botswana’s darkened sky before exploding 17 miles above ground with the force of 200 tons of TNT. Fragments fell like extraterrestrial buckshot into a national park larger than the Netherlands.

Immediately, Botswanan scientists and guides joined with international meteorite experts to hunt for the asteroid’s wreckage. As of November 2020, the team has found 24 individual meteorites. And thanks to the telltale geology of these rocky leftovers, observations of their path to Earth and the memories of a dead NASA spacecraft, scientists were able to unspool the history of this asteroid with breathtaking detail.

As reported earlier this month in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, Botswana’s off-world visitor was once part of Vesta, a gigantic ramshackle asteroid forged at the dawn of the solar system. About 22 million years ago, another asteroid crashed into one of its lonely hills, leaving a modest crater and sending countless shards of Vesta on a space odyssey. One of them was the object that fell over southern Africa in 2018, an explosive end to a lonely journey.

“It is such an amazing thing to be in possession of such a rare specimen with so much history attached to it,” said Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe, a geologist and curator at the Botswana Geoscience Institute who is a co-author.

Peter Jenniskens, a meteorite expert at the SETI Institute and study author, said that the initial search area was a 1,400-square-mile patch in Botswana. Hoping to shrink it down, he visited local businesses with Oliver Moses of the Okavango Research Institute. They located security camera footage at a hotel and gas stations that had recorded the fireball, allowing them to more precisely pinpoint the fall site: a (still-sizable) spot within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

This was a surreal place to go meteorite hunting. Bat-eared foxes and warthogs strolled past, lions stealthily stalked and slaughtered giraffes while leopards lounged in trees. Wardens from Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks protected the search party in case a fanged predator got too close for comfort. The meteorites also looked a lot like animal poop, meaning the team were frequently bamboozled by coprological impostors.

“It was a totally unusual experience for all of us,” said Mr. Gabadirwe.

Only on June 23, the last day of the initial search mission, was the first meteorite found — a small piece of the stars weighing less than an ounce. It was named Motopi Pan, after a local watering hole. “It became a national treasure of Botswana, this little rock,” Dr. Jenniskens said.

The meteorites’ compositions were matched to those found on Vesta, with the help of data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Now lifelessly orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres after running out of fuel in late 2018, Dawn documented the geology of Vesta from 2011 to 2012. Scientists corroborated this origin story by reverse engineering the asteroid’s Earthbound trajectory.

Cosmic rays imprint traces on asteroids by altering atomic nuclei. The traces on these meteorites suggested the asteroid that crashed into Earth bathed in this radiation for 22 million years as it traveled to Earth. That meant an impact crater 22 million years old would mark the spot where this asteroid was liberated from Vesta.

A six-mile-long crater named Rubria on Vesta was the best candidate. The asteroid’s surprising lack of contamination by the solar wind — the stream of plasma and particles coming from the sun — suggested the asteroid’s material was shielded from space for billions of years. Unlike one other similarly aged crater, Rubria sat on a hill undisturbed by landslides, a tranquil place 2018 LA could remain buried before an impact set it free.

“The study has it all, in terms of cosmic drama,” said Katherine Joy, a meteorite expert at the University of Manchester in England not involved with the work. But linking 2018 LA to a specific place on Vesta relies on many underlying assumptions, so no one can be sure that Rubria is the correct spot.

For now, scientists will continue to monitor the skies and scout Earth’s deserts, hoping to find more enlightening fragments of our cosmic cradle’s past. Meteorite hunts “are always incredible adventures,” said Dr. Jenniskens — an exhausting but thrilling way to spend a lifetime.

NASA simulates asteroid hitting Earth with the force of a huge nuclear bomb

Newsweek 29 April, 2021 - 12:04pm

The hypothetical impact scenario has been run all through this week from April 26 at the 7th International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defence Conference 2021.

The exercise is being led by NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).

Throughout the week, CNEOS has been releasing new information each day to conference participants, skipping through months at a time as more and more information about the asteroid is "discovered."

At the start of the scenario, a pretend asteroid was "discovered" on April 19 this year, given the fictional name 2021 PDC. Using impact monitoring systems, scientists agreed the impact will take place in six months' time, though the probability was initially 1 in 2,500. By April 26, the chance of impact had been revised upwards to 5 percent. The pretend asteroid 2021 PDC is estimated to be between 35 and 700 meters in size.

There is also a table highlighting possible impact effects, ranging from an in-air explosion that causes no damage to a mass extinction event.

By the next day of the conference, the scenario had skipped forward to May 2021. By this time scientists had calculated the asteroid would certainly hit the Earth and impact somewhere in Europe or Northern Africa.

Still little was known about the size. CNEOS states that there were some mission options left that might hypothetically be available at this point, including launching a nuclear bomb at the asteroid: "Because deflection is impractical, we consider disruption of the asteroid via a nuclear explosive device."

By day 3 of the conference it was late June in the scenario and 2021 PDC's diameter had been estimated using telescope measurements to be 160 meters with an uncertainty of 80 meters either side and its impact area had been narrowed down to a large area of central Europe.

On the last day of the conference the pretend asteroid's size will have been revised down to around 105 meters across. In the imaginary scenario, it will land in the Czech Republic near the border of Germany and Austria with an average impact energy of around 40 Mt, or 40,000,000 tonnes of TNT—the size of a large nuclear bomb. It will damage a region of around 150 kilometers.

Throughout all stages leaders have been requesting feedback for the steps that follow based on the most recent data they have revealed.

The exercise briefing concludes: "Had a more sensitive asteroid survey such as NEOSM or Rubin Observatory (LSST) been in place in 2014, it would almost certainly have detected the scenario object, and the 7-year warning of potential impact would have opened up a host of different possible outcomes."

Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer, said in a statement: "Each time we participate in an exercise of this nature, we learn more about who the key players are in a disaster event, and who needs to know what information, and when.

"These exercises ultimately help the planetary defense community communicate with each other and with our governments to ensure we are all coordinated should a potential impact threat be identified in the future."

In real life, NASA is currently planning to launch a spacecraft that will demonstrate the possibility of redirecting an asteroid to adjust its orbit in the event that one were heading towards Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is due to launch in late 2021 or early 2022. It will arrive at the Didymos binary asteroid system in late September and deliberately crash itself into one of the asteroids at a speed of nearly 7 kilometers per second to measure how the asteroid's path through space changes.

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