Meteor Madness: Canadian Reassurance Edition

NEOSSsat Thermal Vacuum TestingThe idea of a Cosmic Rock Space Race might sound like a pretty good concert festival, but in reality it is perhaps a bit telling.

Last week, after a large meteor burned through the atmosphere at some ridiculous speed, exploding in midair, injuring over a thousand, Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked God that no large pieces landed in populous centers, Prime Minister Michael Medvedev joined the call for global defense against Near-Earth Objects, and the opposition leader blamed the explosion on Americans testing a new, secret weapon.

Meanwhile, this week in the United States, some federal agencies are turning their attentions skyward, wondering what can and needs to be done:

One positive action item was actually in place prior to the dual asteroid events of Feb. 15: a new Memorandum of Agreement between the Air, Space, and Cyberspace Operations Directorate of the Air Force Space Command and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

That document, which was signed on Jan. 18 of this year, spells out specifics for the public release of meteor data from sources such as high-flying, hush-hush U.S. government space sensors.

The recent Russian meteor event occurred after completion of the newly signed agreement and data on the recent Chelyabinsk event had been released for scientific analysis, SPACE.com has been informed by NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

As a result of that agreement, NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program is receiving information on bolide/fireball events “based on analysis of data collected by U.S. government sensors.”

Also this week, Canada achieved real progress in the discussion of NEOs with the successful launch of NEOSSat:

The Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat), launched February 25, 2013, is the latest in a proud family of world-leading Canadian satellites. The world’s first space telescope dedicated to detecting and tracking asteroids and satellites. It circles the globe every 100 minutes, scanning space near the Sun to pinpoint asteroids that may someday pass close to Earth. NEOSSat is also sweeping the skies in search of satellites and space debris as part of Canada’s commitment to keeping orbital space safe for everyone. NEOSSat applies the kind of industry-leading technology for which Canada has become known and has already demonstrated in our very successful Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars (MOST) satellite.

The suitcase-sized NEOSSat orbits approximately 800 kilometers high above the Earth, searching for near-Earth asteroids that are difficult to spot using ground-based telescopes. Due to its lofty location, it is not limited by the day-night cycle, and can operate 24/7. The hundreds of images that NEOSSat will generate per day will be downloaded and analyzed by the University of Calgary’s NEOSSat science operations centre. Through NEOSSat, Canada will contribute to the international effort to catalogue the near-Earth population of asteroids producing information that will be crucial to targeting new destinations for future space exploration missions.

Meanwhile, there are developments worth noting in the post-event detective work, Continue reading

The Upside of Education

Mini Cooper Countryman backflipA note for the kids: Study hard, and you, too, might make history someday. After all, backflipping a car is the sort of thing that takes all sorts of knowledge, namely in physics and engineering.

MINI and its stunt driver Guerlain Chicherit have done the impossible: executing the perfect “unassisted” backflip.

Using a heavily modified MINI Cooper Countryman, Chicherit, a French rally driver and avid skier, completed the stunt recently at a resort in Tignes, France.

The stunt qualifies for the unassisted certification because the ramp used by Chicherit was static ….

…. For his take-off, Chicherit used a static ramp similar to those used by skiers. With the ideal ramp breakover angle in place, the 34-year-old needed only two other things to record a successful attempt: an extremely light touch with the accelerator and a MINI with a suitably buoyant suspension setup.

Guerlain Chicheret backflipAssisted backflips? Those have been done before.

But this? Well, sure, it’s just a publicity stunt, but one must admit it’s pretty cool.

Copernicus

Here’s one to file under First World Problems: I use the search bar in my browser window, so I rarely see the Google home page.

Not much of a problem, is it? First world, or otherwise.

But today turns out to be the 540th birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus the Polish mathematician and astronomer who revolutionized the European view of the Universe by correctly theorizing a heliocentric solar system.

And, of course, Google marked the day with one of their festive logos.

Eoin O’Carroll explains, for The Christian Science Monitor, a bit about Copernicus’ celebrated discovery:

Google Doodle: February 19, 2013It’s astonishing to think that anatomically modern humans walked on this planet for nearly two hundred millennia before they realized that it was moving.

Then again, you can’t really blame us. Even though the equator is spinning at more than a thousand miles per hour, even though our planet is hurtling around our sun at about 66,000 miles per hour, even though our solar system and everything in it is careening around our galaxy at nearly half a million miles per hour, and even though our galaxy is whirling around at a mind-blowing 1.2 million miles an hour, the very fact that you’re not currently clinging to the ground for dear life makes it only natural to think of the Earth as 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe did, as a “hulking, lazy body, unfit for motion.”

Nicolaus Copernicus’s book, titled “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres,” was published the year the Polish astronomer died, in 1543. It marked the beginning of an eclipse of a worldview dominated by the ideas of Aristotle, who believed that the Earth remained at rest while the sun, moon, other planets, and all the stars, which were made of an unchanging substance called aether, revolved around it in perfect circles.

Of course nothing is ever that simple. Our prehistoric ancestors observed five celestial bodies moving independently from the rest of the lights in the sky. These bodies would move slowly across the sky, loop backward for a few months, and then loop forward again. The ancient Greeks called them astēr planētēs, or “wandering stars,” and thought them to be living beings.

The looping behavior of these wanderers – whom today we know as the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – presented a problem for ancient astronomers, many of whom would have loved nothing more than to have observed them circling above in a simple, orderly fashion, just as Aristotle said they did. But the heavens demanded a more nuanced explanation.

Happy birthday, Nicolaus.