Entries in Earth (21)


Asteroid 2012 DA14 Makes Closest Pass to Earth on Friday

Hemera/Thinkstock (file photo)(HOUSTON) -- The asteroid 2012 DA14 will come scarily close to Earth on Friday, traveling from south to north, and passing closest to Australia, Asia and Eastern Europe.  Its closest approach will be at 2:25 p.m. ET.

The asteroid will miss our planet by about 17,230 miles.  To put that into perspective, the moon is 238,900 miles from Earth.

Professor Scott Hubbard of Stanford University, a former NASA manager, put it into more perspective: "You say 17,000 miles, that is huge.  But remember all of those satellites out there that give us our global positioning, that tell our iPhones where we are, those are at 22,000 miles, so it is going to pass between Earth and the satellites that give us Direct TV every day.  That's a close shave."

And that's why Hubbard, Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart and space station astronaut Ed Lu have become the Asteroid Hunters -- launching their own mission to find asteroids that could collide with our planet in their future.

"This asteroid is important because it is a wakeup call that we should be looking out there," said former astronaut Lu.  "Things do hit the earth."

The last big asteroid to hit Earth slammed into Siberia in 1908, wiping out a thousand miles of tundra.  Just imagine if an asteroid the size of DA14 were to hit an urban area like San Francisco, Chicago or New York.

Finding those life-ending asteroids is the challenge.

"The truth of the matter is of all the asteroids that are out there and come near the Earth and can do harm and hit the Earth, we only know 1 percent of them now," said Schweickart.  "Ninety-nine percent of them, we don't even know where they are."

So what are the odds of being hit by an asteroid?

"I will give you an example," said Lu.  "An asteroid hits the Earth in a typical person's lifetime, let's say your lifetime, with about a one in four chance.  I have a coin here, if I were to flip this twice and get heads twice, that is about the same odds as us getting smacked by an asteroid."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Alpha Centauri, Nearest Star System, Has Earth-Sized Planet

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many scientists, in their quest to determine just how lonely we are in the universe, have wondered whether there are any planets in Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our own.  And now, the first results are in -- and yes, there is at least one planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, one of the three stars clustered together there.  

European astronomers, using a 3.6 meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, report it is remarkably small -- about as massive as Earth.  Worlds that small have been beyond earthlings’ capacity to detect them until just very recently.

The newly found planet is probably hellish being that it's only about four million miles from its host star (we’re 93 million miles from ours).  It’s also fast, completing one orbit -- one “year” -- in only 3.2 of our days.

For now, the most remarkable thing about the planet, say the astronomers, is that they found it at all.  It is much too distant to be seen directly.  Instead, they watched the planet make its star wobble slightly, pulled around by the planet’s gravity as it circled from one side to the other.

Their measurements showed the star moved from side to side at a top speed of 1.8 km (about 1.1 miles) per hour -- “about the speed of a baby crawling,” they said.

“It’s an extraordinary discovery and it has pushed our technique to the limit,” said Xavier Dumusque of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland, who is lead author of the paper reporting the find in this week’s edition of the journal Nature.

The astronomers were able to detect the little world over a distance of 25 trillion miles, but just barely.  They kept watching for four years until they were sure.

It’s hardly a twin of Earth, but it is a neighbor of sorts and one more sign that the Milky Way galaxy is thick with planets.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Flies by Earth

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A 1,650-foot wide asteroid passed right by Earth Thursday night, and a bevy of astronomers watched it live via an online streaming camera.

The asteroid, known as 2012 LZ1 is roughly the size of a city block, big enough to cause significant damage if it were to crash into the Earth, but not big enough to cause an extinction level event.

Fortunately for the planet, the 2012 LZ1 is what is known as a Near-Earth Asteroid.  It came close to the Earth, within 14 lunar distances or 3,343,970 miles, but it will not hit us.

The asteroid, which has been labeled as potentially hazardous due to its size and proximity to Earth, was discovered by researcher Rob McNaught and his colleagues who were working in their Australian lab on the night of June 10, 2012, when they spotted the asteroid.

McNaught was featured in the live stream broadcast Thursday night.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


You’ve Never Seen Earth Like This

Research Center for Earth Operative Monitoring(NEW YORK) -- The highest resolution image of earth ever taken didn’t come from NASA. The image was captured by Russian weather satellite, Electro-L, and unlike NASA’s famous “blue marble” photo, it is a single shot, not a composite of different images.

The 121 megapixel photo was taken as Electro-L orbited 22,369 miles above the equator, according to Gizmodo. The satellite took a photo every half hour combining four different wavelengths of light, three visible and one infrared. The infrared light is the reason the vegetation appears orange in the image.

In the video below, the photos, which were taken in May of 2011, are combined to show the passage of time.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Asteroid Threat in 2040? Scientists Watch 2011 AG5

Hemera/Thinkstock (file photo) (HOUSTON) -- If an asteroid called 2011 AG5 follows the orbit scientists have plotted for it so far, there is a small chance it could hit Earth in February 2040.

Astronomers, who have been tracking the asteroid since January 2011, say it is in an elliptical orbit that could bring it somewhere near Earth in 2040.  Earth is about 8,000 miles in diameter; the asteroid appears to be about 450 feet across.

The problem is that having watched it for only about half an orbit around the Sun, the scientists cannot say for certain where it will be 28 years from now.  So, for the moment, NASA's Near Earth Object Program says the odds are about one in 625 that it could hit our planet in the still-distant future.

"We have a good opportunity to observe it next year and again in 2016," said Donald Yoemans, who heads the program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  "We fully expect that the odds will go way down, most likely to zero, by then."

In the meantime, it was a subject of discussion at a meeting in Vienna of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

The committee members agreed that 2011 AG5 bears watching, and could be useful as the subject of a "tabletop exercise" in what to do if, anytime soon, there really is an asteroid headed our way.

"In our Action Team 14 discussions, we thus concluded that it not necessarily can be called a 'real' threat.  To do that, ideally, we should have at least one, if not two, full orbits observed," said Detlef Koschny of the European Space Agency in an interview with

Scientists have discussed all sorts of far-out plans in case a future asteroid truly does turn out to be coming our way.  If they have enough lead time, they might send a probe with thruster rockets, or even explosives, to nudge an asteroid into a slightly different orbit. 

A very small course change, years in advance, could make a big difference by 2040, they say.  Even if the asteroid misses Earth by less than a hundred miles, its passing will be a non-event.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Super-Earth Found Near Distant Star

File photo. Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Scientists have found a planet orbiting another star -- 22 light years away -- and of all the hundreds of so-called exoplanets so far discovered, this one is, lead researcher Guillem Anglada-Escude said, "the new best candidate to support liquid water and, perhaps, life as we know it."

The planet is labeled GJ 667Cc, found in the constellation Scorpio. It is about five times more massive than Earth. It orbits its host star in only 28 of our days -- as opposed to earth's 365.

But that star is smaller and dimmer than our sun, and most of the light it emits is infrared. Anglada-Escude says it would provide just the right amount of warmth for the planet to be temperate like ours.

"Other proposed candidates [to be watery worlds] would require very special conditions to support liquid water," Anglada-Escude said in an email to ABC News.

The temperature, he said, is probably right regardless of the planet's atmosphere or cloud cover: "This one lies within the zone where no further assumptions (or fine tuning) are required."

Water is common in the universe -- but as ice or vapor, not flowing water that scientists say would probably be necessary for life as we know it. Comets, for instance, have been called "dirty snowballs," and when they get close to the sun they develop gaseous tails. But the temperature range for flowing water -- the liquid you would find in the cells of a living organism -- is very small. Earth is the only planet we know of with the right temperature and atmospheric pressure.

Anglada-Escude and Paul Butler led the research at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington. They and a dozen colleagues are publishing their work in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

They report they found the planet by looking through telescope data collected by HARPS, a rival group of planet hunters in Europe. Anglada-Escude said the HARPS group had observed the star three years ago -- but missed the planet.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Strongest Geomagnetic Storm in Six Years to Hit Earth

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Earth will experience its strongest geomagnetic storm in six years on Tuesday, but the radiation is expected to cause only minor problems with satellites, the power grid and navigation devices.

“Operators are surely seeing a greater number of errors on their system that are causing them to work a bit harder, but we’re not expecting satellites to stop,” Douglas Biesecker, a physicist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told ABC News.

The storm is forecasted to be a G-2 or G-3 on NOAA’s ascending five-point scale.

Biesecker said people should not worry about harmful radiation.

“The magnetic field around Earth is protecting us. That’s one of the great things about being on Earth,” he said.

The average person won’t be affected by the radiation unless they’re taking a flight with a polar route.

“Airlines will divert those flights because high frequency communications will be impacted,” he said.

The storm was set off by a chain of events Sunday evening.  A moderate solar flare erupted on the sun, which occurs tens of thousands of times every solar cycle, Biesecker said. The solar flare was associated with a coronal mass ejection, which is also a frequent occurrence.  However, this particular one was big and sent a cloud of plasma with a magnetic field hurdling toward Earth at four million miles per hour.

Earth experienced some of the radiation within an hour of Sunday’s solar flare.

“The ones that escape propagate to Earth at the speed of light,” Biesecker explained.

The geomagnetic storm is expected to last for one day.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Phobos-Grunt: Failed Russian Mars Probe Falls to Earth

Comstock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Somewhere, probably in the southern Pacific between New Zealand and South America, the failed Russian Phobos-Grunt Mars probe returned ignominiously to Earth Sunday, said the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the U.S. Space Command.

The agencies said they believed the ship reentered the atmosphere around 1 p.m. ET.

They could not say with precision where the spacecraft might have fallen from orbit. Its orbital track during the likely reentry period went over the southern Pacific, South America, parts of Europe and southern Asia. But in a sense, it had already crashed -- at least figuratively -- on Roscosmos.

Phobos-Grunt was launched toward Mars in November, but radio contact was lost and it never got beyond low Earth orbit. Worried attempts to get it to fire its booster engines to head to Mars -- or at least into higher orbit -- all failed.

Roscosmos predicted in November that most of ship would burn up in the atmosphere, but 20 to 30 chunks of charred debris, weighing about 450 lbs., could make it to the surface.

The world's space agencies agreed that any one person's chances of getting hit by debris were tiny -- something like 1 in 20 trillion, based on the spacecraft's orbit and the amount of debris that might survive re-entry. The chances that of the 7 billion people on Earth, one of them, somewhere, could be hit were something like 1 in 3,000.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Spent satellites fall from orbit all the time, though most burn up completely before anything reaches Earth's surface. There have been a few recent -- but harmless -- exceptions: NASA's UARS satellite sent debris crashing into the Pacific in September, and the German ROSAT space telescope scattered debris in the Indian Ocean in October.

The worst known damage caused by Phobos-Grunt was to Russian pride. Roscosmos chief, Vladimir Popovkin, went so far as to suggest that someone had sabotaged the probe.

"It would not be desirable to accuse anybody, but today there are very powerful means of influence for space vehicles which cannot be excluded," he said in an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia, translated by ABC News.

He gave no specifics, and sources said the U.S. government, mildly offended, stopped helping the Russians track their errant probe in its final days.

More likely, said space analysts, it was the Russians' own fault.

"Certainly, the quality control was lacking," said Charles Vick, who follows Russian space efforts for, "and testing the spacecraft ... was never done due to lack of funds."

Phobos-Grunt (Phobos is one of Mars' two moons; Grunt is Russian for ground) had an ambitious mission -- to orbit Mars, land on Phobos, scoop up a soil sample, and bring it home for study. Astronauts have brought back moon rocks, and an American probe returned minute samples from the tail of a comet in 2006, but Mars has been seen as the next destination in space.

The Martian moon Phobos as seen by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2008.

Phobos, only 15 miles across, may be an asteroid that was captured by the gravity of Mars eons ago. Scientists would very much like to know what it is made of.

NASA's Opportunity rover, which landed on Mars in 2004, is still working, and a new, larger one, called Curiosity, is on the way there. In the half century since the space age began, Russia has tried and failed 19 times to reach Mars.

"Truly, a travesty for the exploration of space," said Vick. "A loss for all concerned."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Lunar Eclipse 2011: Will You See Moon Disappear on Saturday?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Look in the western sky Saturday morning before dawn, and if the weather is clear and you're in the right place, you will be rewarded with the last lunar eclipse of 2011.

For just under an hour, the disk of the full moon will almost disappear, turning a dark, rusty red.  The catch for Americans is that you'll miss almost everything unless you're west of the Mississippi.  Totality -- when the moon is completely consumed by Earth's shadow -- begins at 6:06 a.m. Pacific time on Saturday, and ends at 6:57 a.m.  Even on the Pacific coast, dawn will start to brighten the sky before the eclipse is over.

Depending on the atmospheric conditions where you are, the moon may turn a rich orange, or it may become hard to pick out in the sky.  The reddish hue comes from sunlight that is bent by Earth's atmosphere.

From the Rocky Mountain states or the West Coast, the moon may seem larger than usual, since it will loom close to the western horizon, creating a common optical illusion, since you'll have trees or buildings to which you can compare it.

Clearer views will be from places like Hawaii, Alaska and Guam, where it will be the middle of the night, and from Eastern Asia and Australia, where it will be Saturday evening.  Earth's shadow will start to slide across the moon's face about an hour and 20 minutes before the moon becomes totally covered.

A lunar eclipse takes place when the moon, following its orbit around us, passes directly behind Earth as seen from the sun.  It is the opposite of a solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the sun and Earth.  Since the moon's orbit is slightly tilted, the bodies do not align perfectly during most months -- but the rules of orbital mechanics are such that in any given year, there will be at least two and no more than seven solar or lunar eclipses.

If you miss Saturday's eclipse, there will be a partial one on June 4, 2012.  There will not be a total lunar eclipse again until April 15, 2014.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Large Asteroid Zips by Earth and Misses

File photo. (Hemera/Thinkstock)(HOUSTON) -- As predicted, an asteroid larger than the size of an aircraft carrier buzzed by Earth Tuesday evening, coming closer to the planet than the moon.

Had asteroid 2005 YU55 landed on Earth, there's no telling what damage might have occurred.

The 1,300-foot wide asteroid came a little too close for comfort, relatively speaking.  The speedy rock going at 29,000 mph was just 201,700 miles away from Earth on Tuesday -- a distance shorter than that between the planet and its moon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio