Rocks above, rocks below

February 15, 2013

apacClear and a bit chilly this early Friday morning along California’s northern coast and a good wrap-on-the-knuckles to start the weekend.

We gotta get through this day first — our little, blue planet will get a close fly-by this afternoon by a 150-foot piece of space rock, and although scientific brainiacs say we’re safe, the Russians might have had a preview already, and the scene is a bit freakish.
Flowing smoke entrails and deep impacts of shattering glass and people injured — a meteor slapped across central Russia overnight and freaked out the populace.

(Illustration: Salvador Dali’s ‘Cavalier de L’Apocalypse‘ (Horseman of the Apocalypse) found here).

From the Russian RIA news agency:

Buildings across Russia’s Chelyabinsk Region were damaged by falling meteorite particles and the shock waves and sonic booms caused by them, Russian officials said on Friday morning.
A roof and wall partly collapsed at a zinc factory in Chelyabinsk Region after it was struck by the shock wave from the meteorite, the Interior Ministry reported.
The officials did not specify which factory it was.

The Yuzhnouralskaya district power station had 10 percent of its windows broken but there was no effect on its operations, Russian energy supplier Inter RAO reported.
Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, said its facilities across the affected regions were functioning normally.
The Defense Ministry also said none of its property had been damaged.
Hundreds of people were injured in the Chelyabinsk region alone, mainly due to cuts from flying glass.
The meteorite shower was witnessed in at least three Russian regions – Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk and Tyumen – as well as northern area of neighboring Kazakhstan early on Friday morning.

This afternoon a fairly-good-sized asteroid is set to shave close to earth, in fact it is reportedly fly through our satellitte system — that close, about 17,000 miles above us.
Any chance estimates being off?

Info via National Geographic:

Designated 2012 DA14, the space rock is approximately 150 feet (45 meters) across, and astronomers are certain it will zip harmlessly past our planet on February 15 — but not before making history.
It will pass within the orbits of many communications satellites, making it the closest flyby on record.
“This is indeed a remarkably close approach for an asteroid this size,” said Paul Chodas, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Near Earth Object (NEO) program office in Pasadena, California.
“We estimate that an asteroid of this size passes this close to the Earth only once every few decades.”
The giant rock — half a football field wide — was first spotted by observers at the La Sagra Observatory in southern Spain a year ago, soon after it had just finished making a much more distant pass of the Earth at 2.6 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) away.
This time around however, on February 15 at 2:24 p.m. EST, the asteroid will be passing uncomfortably close—ten times closer than the orbit of the moon—flying over the eastern Indian Ocean near Sumatra .
Future Impact?
Chodas and his team have been keeping a close eye on the cosmic intruder, and orbital calculations of its trajectory show that there is no chance for impact.
But the researchers have not yet ruled out future chances of a collision.
This is because asteroids of this size are too faint to be detected until they come quite close to the Earth, said Chodas.
The flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14 on Feb. 15, 2013, will be the closest known approach to Earth for an object its size.

Bill Nye, the science guy, had some sweet words about it: “An asteroid like this could kill a lot of people,” he told The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur. “This one is one of many, many, many — about 100,000 objects like this. So we have discovered or we have tracked about one percent of them. There’s 99 percent more out there.”
And he added, near-gleefully: “We are the first generation of humans that could do something about” an asteroid heading towards Earth, he proclaimed. “If I may, how cool is that?”
Not much, Bill.

And we earthlings also have “mini-moons” in orbit around us all the time. These chunks of rock come and go:

Earth’s gravity may not have the gravitas of Jupiter, but the planet regularly plucks small asteroids passing by and pins them into orbit.
The mini-moons don’t stay for long. Within a year or so they resume their looping, twisting paths like crazy straws around the sun.
But others arrive to take their place.
Simulations show that two asteroids the size of dishwashers and a dozen half-meter (1.6 feet) in diameter are orbiting Earth at any given time.
Every 50 years or so something the size of a dump truck arrives.
So far, there’s been just one confirmed sighting.

And with all that buzzing around, also last week scientists might have determined it was indeed a cosmic impact from an asteroid or comet that caused the total catastrophe which ended the age of dinosaurs.
For a long time, scientists and research people felt there were too many years between extinction of the big lizards and the asteroid/comet striking the earth. Modern technology, however, has seemed to change that view.
From Live Science:

Scientists later found that signs of this collision seemed evident near the town of Chicxulub (CHEEK-sheh-loob) in Mexico in the form of a gargantuan crater more than 110 miles (180 kilometers) wide.
The explosion, likely caused by an object about 6 miles (10 km) across, would have released as much energy as 100 trillion tons of TNT, more than a billion times more than the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

New findings using high-precision radiometric dating analysis of debris kicked up by the impact now suggest the K-T event and the Chicxulub collision happened no more than 33,000 years apart.
In radiometric dating, scientists estimate the ages of samples based on the relative proportions of specific radioactive materials within them.
“We’ve shown the impact and the mass extinction coincided as much as one can possibly demonstrate with existing dating techniques,” researcher Paul Renne, a geochronologist and director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California, told LiveScience.

One aspect is the state of the world at the time of the impact — an un-nerving touch upon the nowadays:

“What we really need to do is to understand better what was going on before the impact — what was the level of ecological stress that existed that allowed the impact to be the straw that broke the camel’s back?” Renne said.
“We also need better dates for the massive volcanism at the Deccan Flats to better understand when it first started and how fast it occurred.”

In the current state of our crazed, out-of-whack planet will a small thing turn humongous?

Meanwhile, deep impacting this planet is the environment — climate change is a bad, bad object trolling the surace of this place we all call home.
Via a report in USAToday this morning:

Climate change and soon-to-be-obsolete weather satellites are the two new subjects listed in the non-partisan Government Accountability Office’s “high risk” list.
The report, released at the beginning of each new Congress, highlights problems that can have a significant impact on health, safety, services and the federal budget.
Climate change presents specific perils to the federal government, the report says: About 30 military bases are located in areas impacted by rising sea levels.
Federal flood and crop insurance programs are vulnerable to storm surges and drought.
A record number of disaster declarations have resulted in federal disaster aid payouts of $80 billion from 2004 to 2011.

Without polar-orbiting satellites, the report noted, the forecasts of the 2010 “Snowmageddon” could have underestimated the amount of snow by 10 inches, and the predicted landfall of the 2012 Superstorm Sandy would have been hundreds of miles off.

One must worry more about the earth-bound rock heads.

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