Entries in Science (5)


NASA's Actual Plan to Deflect an Approaching Asteroid

Hemera/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Asteroids are frightening things. With the approach of QE2, a big one that would end civilization, the galaxy briefly put Earth on notice.

Thankfully, QE2 missed the planet Friday night.

“Scientists have concluded that the asteroid poses no threat to planet Earth,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday, reassuring mankind it will live another day. ”I never really thought I’d be standing up here saying that, but I guess I am.”

But what if an asteroid were headed straight for Earth?

NASA evidently has us covered. In 2005, in a bill authorizing space-program funds, Congress asked NASA for a plan to identify, track and deflect – yes, deflect – all manner of PHOs (potentially harmful objects) that could pose a threat.

The directive, according to NASA, is known as the George E. Brown Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act, named after the late Democratic chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, who died in 1999 and didn’t live to see NASA’s asteroid plan on paper. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., successfully included it in the 2005 bill.

With that congressional prompt, NASA considered many science-reality options, including some that bore resemblance to film plots.

Among the solutions NASA studied were firing a nuclear missile at the asteroid, landing a nuclear bomb on the surface, drilling into the great space rock and exploding a nuclear bomb there (which Bruce Willis attempted to do in the film, Armageddon), and all those same strategies with conventional bombs.

The scientists also gamed out some weirder possibilities designed with more warning time in mind.

Those included flying a spacecraft near the asteroid for a long time to act as a “gravity tractor” and pull it off course (deemed ineffective, unsurprisingly); using a large mirror to focus sunlight and “boil off” some material from the asteroid; a spacecraft “rendezvous” with the asteroid to “boil off” some material using a “pulse laser”; landing on the asteroid, drilling into it, and “eject[ing] material from PHO at high velocity”; “attach[ing]” a spacecraft to the asteroid and pushing it out of the way; and what NASA called the “Enhanced Yarkovsky Effect” – altering the reflectiveness of a rotating asteroid and  counting on the “radiation from sunheated material” to push the asteroid off course.

NASA charted how effectively each method could push a gigantic space rock off course.

The winner: nuclear bomb. For a fast-approaching comet, the only recourse may be drilling into it and detonating a nuclear bomb, according to NASA research.

But, in general, NASA favored simply firing a missile at a space rock and detonating it nearby. Landing on the asteroid, or drilling into it, would make for a better explosion, but NASA was wary of fragmenting the big rock.

Unfortunately, nuclear explosions in space are banned under a 1967 U.N. space treaty, so other nations would have to sign off on the plan.

From the 2007 NASA report to Congress:

    In the impulsive category, the use of a nuclear device was found to be the most effective means to deflect a PHO. Because of the large amount of energy delivered, nuclear devices would require the least amount of detailed information about the threatening object, reducing the need for detailed characterization. While detonation of a nuclear device on or below the surface of a threatening object was found to be 10-100 times more efficient than detonating a nuclear device above the surface, the standoff detonation would be less likely to fragment the target. A nuclear standoff mission could be designed knowing only the orbit and approximate mass of the threat, and missions could be carried out incrementally to reach the required amount of deflection. Additional information about the object’s mass and physical properties would perhaps increase the effectiveness, but likely would not be required to accomplish the goal. It should be noted that because of restrictions found in Article IV of the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space,” including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, use of a nuclear device would likely require prior international coordination. The study team also examined conventional explosives, but found they were ineffective against most threats.

So there you have it: The government’s plan if an asteroid approaches is to shoot a nuclear missile at it. The planet has George E. Brown, Dana Rohrabacher and NASA to thank.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Intel Semifinalist Is Homeless No More Thanks to Community

ABC News(BRENTWOOD, N.Y.) -- Samantha Garvey, the homeless high school senior gaining recognition for becoming a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, will soon have a home thanks to officials in Long Island.

Suffolk county official Steve Bellone said in a press conference Friday morning that Garvey and her family can move into a rent-subsidized home in about 10 days. The teen and her family have been living in a homeless shelter since Jan. 1.

Against all odds, Garvey has excelled in school, maintaining a 3.9 grade point average along with studying Italian and learning to play the violin. Her work in science, specifically studying the effects of predators on mussels, landed her on a list of one of 300 semifinalists in the nationwide competition. She will find out next month if she becomes a finalist. The top prize is $100,000.

“I get so excited to tell people about my mussels and crabs that I become a completely different person,” she said.

Garvey and her family have lived in shelters and hotels since she was a little girl. Seven years ago, they were able to move into a house, but in February 2010, her parents were involved in a car accident. They were forced to leave.

“It hurts leaving everything behind and just having to be rushed out of your home,” she said of the experience.

Now, it seems, she will be able to focus on her work in her own home -- thanks to the community.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Homeless Teen Could Win $100,000 Science Prize

ABC News(BRENTWOOD, N.Y.) -- Samantha Garvey is one teenage girl who would rather read something called The Journal of Shellfish Research than Glamour magazine.

“What I’m doing is the American dream,” she says.

The 17-year-old high school senior maintains a 3.9 grade point average at her Brentwood, N.Y., high school, studies Italian and plays the violin. She also has an unusual interest that has recently caught some attention: On Wednesday she was named one of 61 Long Island semifinalists in the national Intel Science Talent Search because of her work studying the effects of predators on ribbed mussels.

“I get so excited to tell people about my mussels and crabs that I become a completely different person,” she said.

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There’s another reason why Garvey and her family are so excited about her nomination. The teen, along with her parents and her 13-year-old siblings, are now living in a homeless shelter. The top prize for the award is a life-changing $100,000.

“It’s unbelievable,” she told ABC News Thursday. “It might as well be the lottery.”

Garvey and her family have lived in shelters and hotels since she was a little girl. Seven years ago, they were able to move into a house, but in February 2010, her parents were involved in a car accident. They were forced to leave.

“It hurts leaving everything behind and just having to be rushed out of your home,” she said of the experience.

Even though she doesn’t have a place to call her own, or even a desk to do her homework on, the teen has continued to excel at school. Ranking No. 4 in her class, she said she works hard in school for a reason.

“I want to do better for myself,” she said. “I want a better life.”

In two weeks, she’ll find out if she becomes a finalist for the Intel prize, and if she will be given the chance to get her and her family a more permanent place to call home. With so many children across America finding themselves in a similar situation, Garvey has some advice.

“I’m right there with you,” she said. “I hope things get better, because they do.”

That’s just one lesson from a young woman whose future shines bright.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dinosaur Footprints in Arkansas from T. Rex Cousin?

File photo. (iStockPhoto/Thinkstock)(FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.) -- In a remote corner of southern Arkansas, scientists have found a rocky field full of dinosaur footprints in an area about as large as two football fields.

The fossilized tracks probably date to the Early Cretaceous period, 115 to 120 million years ago. Researchers say the dinosaurs who left them probably included giant predators, such as Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, an early cousin of T. rex. There are also large, long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs such as Pleurocoelus and Paluxysaurus, who may have been easy prey.

Stephen Boss of the University of Arkansas, who leads the team working on the site, says the footprints are in excellent shape -- probably a good snapshot of what life in the Cretaceous may have been like there.

What's now North America was tropical and steamy back then. The field was probably on the edge of a body of water. Silt, covering it over time, would have hardened to preserve the footprints.

A. atokensis, if that's what the researchers have found, was one of the largest predators ever to walk the earth. The dinosaur had three toes. The footprints are about two feet long and a foot wide.

Dinosaur tracks are surprisingly common, but not in spots this large. Scientists can examine the area to infer how much rain there was, and how quickly it evaporated. If they can reconstruct the climate of the Early Cretaceous, the university said, it may help in predictions about Earth's future climate.

The land is on private property in southwestern Arkansas, not far from the borders of East Texas and northern Louisiana. For now, the researchers are keeping the precise location a secret.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Nation's Report Card: Urban Students Lag in Science

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Public school students in the nation's largest cities lag behind their peers across the country in science, according to a new “Nation’s Report Card” released Thursday. The 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress in Science found that 44 percent of fourth-graders and 56 percent of eighth-graders at schools in large cities (with populations of 250,000 or more) are below basic proficiency in science.
"The results released today show that students in our cities are further behind in science than in reading and mathematics,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday in a written statement. “These results show that large city districts aren't preparing enough students to succeed in the knowledge economy.”
Of the 17 urban school districts that participated in the study, most scored lower than the national average for public school students.
Science scores for fourth-graders in 14 of the 17 districts were lower than the national score; only Austin, Charlotte, and Louisville had scores that were not significantly different from the national average.
At grade 8, 16 districts were lower than the national average; only Austin had a score that was not significantly different from the national score.
The 17 districts that participated showed a wide range of knowledge. In grade 4, for example, the percentages of students performing at or above the basic level ranged from 26 percent in Detroit to 70 percent in Charlotte and Louisville.
The demographics of the districts also varied significantly from the national average. In general, large cities often had higher percentages of English language learners. The percentage of students from lower-income families in urban areas ranged anywhere from 47 to 100 percent.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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