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Quantumaniac is where it’s at - and by ‘it’ I mean awesome.

Over here, I post a ton of astronomy / math / general science in an attempt to make your brain feel good. My aim is to be as informative as possible, while posting fascinating things that hopefully enlighten us both a little to the mysteries of our truly wondrous universe(s?). Plus, how would you know if the blog exists or not unless you observe it?

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How Did We Not See the Russian Asteroid Coming? 

Over a hundred people are injured after a meteor or meteors reportedly exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia this morning. Although there are no confirmed deaths, the full extent of the situation is still being assessed.

Chelyabinsk is a city of about a million people, located just to the east of the Ural Mountains. This morning, several people captured video of a bright trail streaking across the sky, followed by a saturatingly bright light. Although some people say that the lights were caused by a meteor shower, others believe that it was a single meteor that cut across the sky and exploded in the atmosphere.

Accounts of injuries vary, but it appears that anywhere between one hundred and four hundred people were injured, most of them by glass from shattering windows. (Reuters is saying 400.) The explosion shook the buildings, and it seems as though the 6000-square-foot roof of a Zinc Plant collapsed. Some people say that fragments of the meteor rained down on the town. Given that it was one of the biggest meteors to hit Earth in possibly a century, why didn’t we see it coming?

For answers, we turned to NASA’s Amy Mainzer, a scientist who works with the space agency’s Near Earth Objects (NEO) program, and one of the main researchers on the NEOWISE satellite project to map NEOs in the sky.

We are quickly learning a lot about the Russian fireball. It was pretty small - only about 15 m and about 7000 tonnes - and that’s why it wasn’t detected. This object wasn’t seen earlier because it was really faint, and it might not have been visible to observers in the night sky. Most of the survey efforts have been very successful in finding the largest asteroids (about 90% of the near-Earth objects larger than 1 km in diameter have been found), but there is still a lot of work to be done with finding and tracking the smaller objects.

Though it seemed enormous, the meteorite that struck Russia was relatively small. It’s likely that objects like this could hit again without warning, simply because right now our satellite systems are combing the skies for truly deadly objects that could wipe out a country or even a continent.

Still, added, Mainzer:

NASA is studying ways to improve the survey capabilities; an example of a prototype new system is the NEOWISE project that I worked on, which used an infrared telescope to discover and characterize NEOs. But the program has been expanded in budget by about a factor of 3 in the last couple of years, so that’s good.

One way that NEOWISE was helpful was that it could measure objects that appear dark to other telescopes. Often we judge the size of asteroids and meteors by measuring how bright and reflective they are. The problem is that some large objects are actually quite dark and very little light bounces off them. Using an infrared telescope like the one on NEOWISE helps us identify even these cloaked objects that might be invisible to other devices.

Images via AP

Source: io9


Saturn’s Moon Phoebe has Interesting Origins
More than 60 moons are known to orbit Saturn, varying drastically in shape, size, surface age and origin. Scientists had their first close-up look at Phoebe when Cassini began exploring the Saturn system in 2004. Using data from multiple spacecraft instruments and a computer model of the moon’s chemistry, geophysics and geology, scientists found Phoebe was a so-called planetesimal, or remnant planetary building block. 


Phoebe was born within the first 3 million years of the birth of the solar system, which occurred 4.5 billion years ago. The moon may originally have been porous but appears to have collapsed in on itself as it warmed up. Phoebe developed a density 40 percent higher than the average inner Saturnian moon. 
Cassini images suggest Phoebe originated in the far-off Kuiper Belt, the region of ancient, icy, rocky bodies beyond Neptune’s orbit. Data show Phoebe was spherical and hot early in its history, and has denser rock-rich material concentrated near its center. Its average density is about the same as Pluto, another object in the Kuiper Belt. Phoebe likely was captured by Saturn’s gravity when it somehow got close to the giant planet.                        
Objects like Phoebe are thought to have condensed very quickly. Hence, they represent building blocks of planets. Saturn is surrounded by a cloud of irregular moons that circle the planet in orbits tilted from Saturn’s orbit around the sun, the so-called equatorial plane. Phoebe is the largest of these irregular moons and also has the distinction of orbiting backward in relation to the other moons. Saturn’s large moons appear to have formed from gas and dust orbiting in the planet’s equatorial plane. These moons currently orbit Saturn in that same plane. 
Objects of Phoebe’s size have long been thought to form as “potato-shaped” bodies and remained that way over their lifetimes. If such an object formed early enough in the solar system’s history, it could have harbored the kinds of radioactive material that would produce substantial heat over a short timescale. This would warm the interior and reshape the moon. 
Phoebe likely stayed warm for tens of millions of years before freezing up. The study suggests the heat also would have enabled the moon to host liquid water at one time. This could explain the signature of water-rich material on Phoebe’s surface previously detected by Cassini.  
The new study also is consistent with the idea that several hundred million years after Phoebe cooled, the moon drifted toward the inner solar system in a solar-system-wide rearrangement. Phoebe was large enough to survive this turbulence. 

Saturn’s Moon Phoebe has Interesting Origins

More than 60 moons are known to orbit Saturn, varying drastically in shape, size, surface age and origin. Scientists had their first close-up look at Phoebe when Cassini began exploring the Saturn system in 2004. Using data from multiple spacecraft instruments and a computer model of the moon’s chemistry, geophysics and geology, scientists found Phoebe was a so-called planetesimal, or remnant planetary building block. 

Phoebe was born within the first 3 million years of the birth of the solar system, which occurred 4.5 billion years ago. The moon may originally have been porous but appears to have collapsed in on itself as it warmed up. Phoebe developed a density 40 percent higher than the average inner Saturnian moon. 

Cassini images suggest Phoebe originated in the far-off Kuiper Belt, the region of ancient, icy, rocky bodies beyond Neptune’s orbit. Data show Phoebe was spherical and hot early in its history, and has denser rock-rich material concentrated near its center. Its average density is about the same as Pluto, another object in the Kuiper Belt. Phoebe likely was captured by Saturn’s gravity when it somehow got close to the giant planet.                        

Objects like Phoebe are thought to have condensed very quickly. Hence, they represent building blocks of planets. Saturn is surrounded by a cloud of irregular moons that circle the planet in orbits tilted from Saturn’s orbit around the sun, the so-called equatorial plane. Phoebe is the largest of these irregular moons and also has the distinction of orbiting backward in relation to the other moons. Saturn’s large moons appear to have formed from gas and dust orbiting in the planet’s equatorial plane. These moons currently orbit Saturn in that same plane. 

Objects of Phoebe’s size have long been thought to form as “potato-shaped” bodies and remained that way over their lifetimes. If such an object formed early enough in the solar system’s history, it could have harbored the kinds of radioactive material that would produce substantial heat over a short timescale. This would warm the interior and reshape the moon. 

Phoebe likely stayed warm for tens of millions of years before freezing up. The study suggests the heat also would have enabled the moon to host liquid water at one time. This could explain the signature of water-rich material on Phoebe’s surface previously detected by Cassini.  

The new study also is consistent with the idea that several hundred million years after Phoebe cooled, the moon drifted toward the inner solar system in a solar-system-wide rearrangement. Phoebe was large enough to survive this turbulence. 

(Source: dailygalaxy.com)

Ancient Asteroids vs. Earth

Even though the Late Heavy Bombardment is somewhat of a controversial idea, new research has revealed this period of impacts to the Earth-Moon system may have lasted much longer than originally estimated and well into the time when early life was forming on Earth. Additionally, this “late-late” period of impacts — 3.8 billion to 2.5 billion years ago — was not for the faint of heart. Various blasts may have rivaled those that produced some of the largest craters on the Moon, and could been larger than the dinosaur-killing impact that created the Chicxulub crater 65 million years ago.

“Our work provides a rationale that the last big impacts hit over an extended time,” said William Bottke principal investigator of the impact study team at the NASA Lunar Science Institute’s Center of Lunar Origin and Evolution (CLOE), based at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.

The evidence for these prodigious impacts comes from bead-like impact ‘spherules’ found in millimeter- to centimeter-thick rock layers on Earth and date from the Archean period of Earth’s history, more recent than the estimated LHB period of 4.3 to 3.8 billion years ago.

“The beds speak to an intense period of bombardment of Earth,” Bottke said. “Their source long has been a mystery.”

The millimeter-scale circles and more irregular gray particles are formerly molten droplets ejected into space when an asteroid hit the early Earth. The image at left is from the Monteville layer in South Africa. Courtesy Bruce Simonson, Oberlin College and Conservatory

The circles seen in the image above are all formerly molten droplets ejected into space when an asteroid struck the Earth about 2.56 billion years ago. The droplets returned to Earth and were concentrated at the base of the Reivilo layer in South Africa.

The spherules still contain substantial extraterrestrial material, such as iridium (176 parts per million), which rules out alternative sources for the spherules, such as volcanoes, according to Bruce Simonson, a geologist from the Oberlin College and Conservatory who has studied these ancient layers for decades.

The timing of these impacts also coincides with a record of large lunar craters being created more recently than 3.8-billion years ago.

At least 12 spherule beds deposited between 3.47 and 1.7 billion years ago have been found in protected areas on Earth, such as in shales deposited on the seafloor below the reach of waves.

From these beds, the team found evidence of approximately 70 impacts on Earth during this time period that were likely larger than the Chicxulub impact.

In their paper, which was published in Nature, the team created a computer model of the ancient main asteroid belt and tracked what would have happened when the orbits of the giant planets changed. They extended the work of the Nice Model, which supports the theory that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune formed in different orbits nearly 4.5 billion years ago and migrated to their current orbits about 4 billion years ago, triggering a solar system-wide bombardment of comets and asteroids called known as the LHB.

New Space Company May Solve World’s Economic Problems

This Tuesday, a group of billionaires and former NASA scientists will announce Planetary Resources Inc., the first asteroid mining company in history. They claim they will “add trillions of dollars to the global GDP” and “help ensure humanity’s prosperity.”
The group of investors and scientists on board this enterprise is impressive:

…including Google’s Larry Page & Eric Schmidt, Ph.D.; film maker & explorer James Cameron; Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and Microsoft’s former Chief Software Architect Charles Simonyi, Ph.D.; Founder of Sherpalo and Google Board of Directors founding member K. Ram Shriram; and Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group Ross Perot, Jr.

Harnessing the resources of asteroids is not a crazy proposition and the return of investment could be amazing. So much that they are convinced they can “add trillions of dollars to the global GDP.” More importantly, this may solve many of our material needs as resources on Earth keep dwindling fast.
But is it doable? There are no details yet, but if they are going to invest millions of dollars on it, you can be sure it is doable and it will be profitable. They don’t have to travel to the asteroid belt to grab them. There are many passing near Earth that may be accessible. In fact, there are already plenty of plans on scientists and engineers’ drafting boards.
Needless to say, and despite the fact that it will probably take some years to achieve their goals, this is all extremely exciting. If they are successful, it will truly be a new dawn for humanity.
We will be covering the press conference live, which will feature Charles Simonyi, Planetary Resources, Investor; Eric Anderson, Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources; Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources; Chris Lewicki, President & Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources; Tom Jones, Ph.D., Planetary Scientist, Veteran NASA Astronaut & Planetary Resources, Inc. Advisor.
It will be held in the Museum of Flight in Seattle on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30am PDT.

New Space Company May Solve World’s Economic Problems

This Tuesday, a group of billionaires and former NASA scientists will announce Planetary Resources Inc., the first asteroid mining company in history. They claim they will “add trillions of dollars to the global GDP” and “help ensure humanity’s prosperity.”

The group of investors and scientists on board this enterprise is impressive:

…including Google’s Larry Page & Eric Schmidt, Ph.D.; film maker & explorer James Cameron; Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and Microsoft’s former Chief Software Architect Charles Simonyi, Ph.D.; Founder of Sherpalo and Google Board of Directors founding member K. Ram Shriram; and Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group Ross Perot, Jr.

Harnessing the resources of asteroids is not a crazy proposition and the return of investment could be amazing. So much that they are convinced they can “add trillions of dollars to the global GDP.” More importantly, this may solve many of our material needs as resources on Earth keep dwindling fast.

But is it doable? There are no details yet, but if they are going to invest millions of dollars on it, you can be sure it is doable and it will be profitable. They don’t have to travel to the asteroid belt to grab them. There are many passing near Earth that may be accessible. In fact, there are already plenty of plans on scientists and engineers’ drafting boards.

Needless to say, and despite the fact that it will probably take some years to achieve their goals, this is all extremely exciting. If they are successful, it will truly be a new dawn for humanity.

We will be covering the press conference live, which will feature Charles Simonyi, Planetary Resources, Investor; Eric Anderson, Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources; Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources; Chris Lewicki, President & Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources; Tom Jones, Ph.D., Planetary Scientist, Veteran NASA Astronaut & Planetary Resources, Inc. Advisor.

It will be held in the Museum of Flight in Seattle on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30am PDT.

(Source: Gizmodo)

Google Goes into Space? 
This upcoming Tuesday, during a press conference at the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery (located in the Museum of Flight in Seattle), a new company called Planetary Resources will come into existence.
Two of the men behind the mystery project are Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google. Others involved include director James Cameron, Chief Software Architect of Microsoft Charles Simonyl, Google Board of Directors member K. Ram Shiram, and Chairman of the Perot Group Ross Perot, Jr.
The cryptic press release didn’t give any details save a name and vague description of the company’s goals. It will “overlay two critical sector – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP.” It goes on the say that the innovative startup will “create a new industry and a new definition of natural resources.”
It may be convoluted, but it’s enough information to give some scientists a pretty clear idea of what Planetary Resources might do. It’s likely an asteroid mining company. That’s really the only thing in space that we need on Earth and could redefine natural resources.
Scientists have long suspected asteroids, which are believed to be made of material leftover from the Solar System’s formation or a mystery planet’s destruction, might hold valuable resources. There are tens of thousands of astroids in orbit between Mars and Jupiter – the so-called asteroid belt – and occasionally one comes close enough to Earth to pose a threat. But, they also come close enough to make a sample or resource collection mission possible.
Read more. 

Google Goes into Space? 

This upcoming Tuesday, during a press conference at the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery (located in the Museum of Flight in Seattle), a new company called Planetary Resources will come into existence.

Two of the men behind the mystery project are Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google. Others involved include director James Cameron, Chief Software Architect of Microsoft Charles Simonyl, Google Board of Directors member K. Ram Shiram, and Chairman of the Perot Group Ross Perot, Jr.

The cryptic press release didn’t give any details save a name and vague description of the company’s goals. It will “overlay two critical sector – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP.” It goes on the say that the innovative startup will “create a new industry and a new definition of natural resources.”

It may be convoluted, but it’s enough information to give some scientists a pretty clear idea of what Planetary Resources might do. It’s likely an asteroid mining company. That’s really the only thing in space that we need on Earth and could redefine natural resources.

Scientists have long suspected asteroids, which are believed to be made of material leftover from the Solar System’s formation or a mystery planet’s destruction, might hold valuable resources. There are tens of thousands of astroids in orbit between Mars and Jupiter – the so-called asteroid belt – and occasionally one comes close enough to Earth to pose a threat. But, they also come close enough to make a sample or resource collection mission possible.

Read more. 

jtotheizzoe:

I Shall Call Him Mini-Moon
Our planet’s proper-noun Moon, the one we call Luna, has been hanging out around Earth for about 4 billion years. A new simulation says that at any moment, Luna is not alone.
University of Helsinki researchers used a massive supercomputer to simulate 10 million tiny asteroids, just a few feet across, passing Earth. Between the gravitational pull of the Sun, Moon and Earth, tens of thousand were captured. As a result of these calculations, which would have taken your home computer six years, they estimate that at any moment Earth is joined by at least one “mini-moon”. 
These tiny asteroids can orbit for years, undetected, before being pulled back into a path around the Sun. If we could capture one, imagine what we could discover about the early Solar System!
(via NASA Lunar Science Institute)

jtotheizzoe:

I Shall Call Him Mini-Moon

Our planet’s proper-noun Moon, the one we call Luna, has been hanging out around Earth for about 4 billion years. A new simulation says that at any moment, Luna is not alone.

University of Helsinki researchers used a massive supercomputer to simulate 10 million tiny asteroids, just a few feet across, passing Earth. Between the gravitational pull of the Sun, Moon and Earth, tens of thousand were captured. As a result of these calculations, which would have taken your home computer six years, they estimate that at any moment Earth is joined by at least one “mini-moon”. 

These tiny asteroids can orbit for years, undetected, before being pulled back into a path around the Sun. If we could capture one, imagine what we could discover about the early Solar System!

(via NASA Lunar Science Institute)

Comet Clocked in at Top Angular Velocity Since Discovery
This shows comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) passing quite close to the star 2 Draconis, located to the left of the comet. This time lapse was shot between 23:32 and 01:13 UTC on March 16-17th, 2009. It slows down shortly after passing the star. 

Comet Clocked in at Top Angular Velocity Since Discovery

This shows comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) passing quite close to the star 2 Draconis, located to the left of the comet. This time lapse was shot between 23:32 and 01:13 UTC on March 16-17th, 2009. It slows down shortly after passing the star. 

Amino Acid Meteorite
At the end of 2010, a meteorite crashed into the Sudanese desert - which came from Asteroid 2008 TC3. The composition of the meteorite suggested that it was formed in a powerful collision between two asteroids. When the meteorite samples were analyzed, nineteen different amino acids were found! Although present in tiny amounts, this significantly raises the possibility of extra-terrestrial life - and perhaps closer than we thought. scientists were sure to erase any and all chances of Earthly contaminants. 
Until this discovery, scientists always believed that the way to produce amino acids was liquid water and a cool temperature, but perhaps there is another method! One possibility suggested is that during the collision that formed the meteorite, perhaps amino acids were produced under those extremely hot conditions. 

Amino Acid Meteorite

At the end of 2010, a meteorite crashed into the Sudanese desert - which came from Asteroid 2008 TC3. The composition of the meteorite suggested that it was formed in a powerful collision between two asteroids. When the meteorite samples were analyzed, nineteen different amino acids were found! Although present in tiny amounts, this significantly raises the possibility of extra-terrestrial life - and perhaps closer than we thought. scientists were sure to erase any and all chances of Earthly contaminants. 

Until this discovery, scientists always believed that the way to produce amino acids was liquid water and a cool temperature, but perhaps there is another method! One possibility suggested is that during the collision that formed the meteorite, perhaps amino acids were produced under those extremely hot conditions.