Weekly Links

Wow, it’s been a busy week and a half! Ten days is the longest I’ve gone without posting some links since I started my blog over a year ago. Not only has space news been busy, with asteroids galore, but I have been busy too, with a weekend getaway last weekend and then 3 nights of ISS mission ops this week. Hopefully the news I share below will get us all back up to speed!

Down to Earth

The first thing I have to talk about is the asteroid impact in the¬†Chelyabinsk area of Russia in the Ural mountains. The short story is that just hours before the much anticipated fly-by of large asteroid 2012 DA14 last Friday, February 15, an asteroid about 15 meters across entered the Earth’s atmosphere above Russia and exploded without warning over a relatively large city in Russia. The airburst was the equivalent of may kilotons of TNT and it managed to cause widespread injury and property damage (no reports of deaths that I am aware of).

Here is a pretty good video of the meteor.

And this one has the sound of the meteor exploding. Scary.

Experts are sure, based on tracing the Chelyabinsk meteor’s orbit back the way it came, that 2012 DA14 and Chelyabinsk are unrelated. It is what you might call a “cosmic coincidince”. Phil Plait talks about the chances of such a coincidence and also the sober reality that we need to take asteroid threats more seriously.

The more interesting coincidence to me is that asteroid impacts of this size are only expected to happen about once a century. The last large impact (that is known) happened in 1908, also in Russia.

Maybe not surprisingly, a weather satellite got some brief images of the smoke trail¬†from the Chelyabinsk meteor. I don’t want to leave poor 2012 DA14 out to dry, so here’s a timelapse of its flyby of Earth.

In some non-asteroid news, the new Space Shuttle display at KSC in Florida is officially opening on June 29. This date was announced at an unveiling of the facility’s new logo.

The test firing of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket was completed successfully earlier this evening. This is good news for their program, which needs to catch up with SpaceX. SpaceX is getting ready for their third cargo flight to ISS next week.

The mayor of Brownsville, Texas met with Elon Musk of SpaceX last week to discuss further the possibility of SpaceX building their next launch site on Boca Chica Beach in South Texas.

In Orbit

NASA astronauts aboard ISS had their first public Google+ hangout. Cool!

There was a bit of excitement in ISS mission ops earlier this week when the first day of ISS computer software upgrades did not go as planned. A computer restart did not execute properly and it resulted in a temporary loss of communications between ISS and mission control. You may have heard about it, since it was all over the news when it happened on Tuesday. Fortunately, flight controllers, with the help of the crew, were able to resolve the problem and the software upgrades were completed. All is well in space!

Around the Solar System

Mercury had its longest “Eastern elongation” last week – meaning it was at its highest point above the horizon at sunset, as seen from Eearth.

Out There

The new company “Inspiration Mars Foundation” – founded by space tourist Dennis Tito – claims to be planning a 500 day Mars trip to be launched in 2018. I wish them luck.

This week it was announced that the smallest exoplanet ever discovered was found 200 light years away. The planet is Kepler-37b (meaning it was found by the Kepler mission) and is only 2,400 miles in diameter, which makes it smaller than Mercury. As usual, the planet is far too close to its parent star to be habitable in any way.

February 22, 2013 9:00 pm

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