In Egyptian myth, Apophis was the ancient spirit of evil and destruction, a demon that was determined to plunge the world into eternal darkness.
A fitting name, astronomers reasoned, for a menace now hurtling towards Earth from outerspace. Scientists are monitoring the progress of a 390-metre wide asteroid discovered last year that is potentially on a collision course with the planet, and are imploring governments to decide on a strategy for dealing with it.
Nasa has estimated that an impact from Apophis, which has an outside chance of hitting the Earth in 2036, would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole of the Earth would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere.
And, scientists insist, there is actually very little time left to decide. At a recent meeting of experts in near-Earth objects (NEOs) in London, scientists said it could take decades to design, test and build the required technology to deflect the asteroid. Monica Grady, an expert in meteorites at the Open University, said: "It's a question of when, not if, a near Earth object collides with Earth. Many of the smaller objects break up when they reach the Earth's atmosphere and have no impact. However, a NEO larger than 1km [wide] will collide with Earth every few hundred thousand years and a NEO larger than 6km, which could cause mass extinction, will collide with Earth every hundred million years. We are overdue for a big one."
Apophis had been intermittently tracked since its discovery in June last year but, in December, it started causing serious concern. Projecting the orbit of the asteroid into the future, astronomers had calculated that the odds of it hitting the Earth in 2029 were alarming. As more observations came in, the odds got higher.
Having more than 20 years warning of potential impact might seem plenty of time. But, at last week's meeting, Andrea Carusi, president of the Spaceguard Foundation, said that the time for governments to make decisions on what to do was now, to give scientists time to prepare mitigation missions. At the peak of concern, Apophis asteroid was placed at four out of 10 on the Torino scale - a measure of the threat posed by an NEO where 10 is a certain collision which could cause a global catastrophe. This was the highest of any asteroid in recorded history and it had a 1 in 37 chance of hitting the Earth. The threat of a collision in 2029 was eventually ruled out at the end of last year.
There are no shortage of ideas on how to deflect asteroids. The Advanced Concepts Team at the European Space Agency have led the effort in designing a range of satellites and rockets to nudge asteroids on a collision course for Earth into a different orbit.Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer from Queen's University Belfast, said: "When it does pass close to us on April 13 2029, the Earth will deflect it and change its orbit. There's a small possibility that if it passes through a particular point in space, the so-called keyhole, ... the Earth's gravity will change things so that when it comes back around again in 2036, it will collide with us." The chance of Apophis passing through the keyhole, a 600-metre patch of space, is 1 in 5,500 based on current information.
No technology has been left unconsidered, even potentially dangerous ideas such as nuclear powered spacecraft. "The advantage of nuclear propulsion is a lot of power," said Prof Fitzsimmons. "The negative thing is that ... we haven't done it yet. Whereas with solar electric propulsion, there are several spacecraft now that do use this technology so we're fairly confident it would work."
The favoured method is also potentially the easiest - throwing a spacecraft at an asteroid to change its direction. Esa plans to test this idea with its Don Quixote mission, where two satellites will be sent to an asteroid. One of them, Hidalgo, will collide with the asteroid at high speed while the other, Sancho, will measure the change in the object's orbit. Decisions on the actual design of these probes will be made in the coming months, with launch expected some time in the next decade. One idea that seems to have no support from astronomers is the use of explosives.
Prof Fitzsimmons. "If you explode too close to impact, perhaps you'll get hit by several fragments rather than one, so you spread out the area of damage."
In September, scientists at Strathclyde and Glasgow universities began computer simulations to work out the feasibility of changing the directions of asteroids on a collision course for Earth. In spring next year, there will be another opportunity for radar observations of Apophis that will help astronomers work out possible future orbits of the asteroid more accurately.
If, at that stage, they cannot rule out an impact with Earth in 2036, the next chance to make better observations will not be until 2013. Nasa has argued that a final decision on what to do about Apophis will have to be made at that stage.
"It may be a decision in 2013 whether or not to go ahead with a full-blown mitigation mission, but we need to start planning it before 2013," said Prof Fitzsimmons. In 2029, astronomers will know for sure if Apophis will pose a threat in 2036. If the worst-case scenarios turn out to be true and the Earth is not prepared, it will be too late. "If we wait until 2029, it would seem unlikely that you'd be able to do anything about 2036," said Mr Yates.
United Space Alliance Aft Technician Bobby Wright looks at the gaseous nitrogen pressure regulator in the left Orbital Maneuvering System pod on Space Shuttle Endeavour. The component showed pressure differentials during the launch count May 30, 2002, and mission managers elected to replace it after the launch was scrubbed due to weather concerns. The launch of Endeavour on Mission STS-111, Utilization Flight 2 to the International Space Station, has been rescheduled for June 5, 2002. 06/03/2002
Inside the Orbiter Processing Facility, spectators watch as Endeavour is rolled out of the bay on top of a transporter. The orbiter is being moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building for mating to the External Tank/Solid Rocket Boosters atop the Mobile Launcher Platform. Endeavour is targeted to launch May 30, 2002, on mission STS-111 to the International Space Station. Mission goals include delivering and installing the Mobile Base System to complete the Canadian Mobile Service System and carrying the Expedition 5 crew to the Station for rotation with Expedition 4. 04/22/2002
Entrevista a Alan Bean, piloto del módulo lunar del Apollo XII y cuarto hombre en la Luna
Alan Bean, un Artista-Explorador en el Apollo XII
45 Años del Primer Alunizaje de Precisión Se cumple el 45 aniversario de la llegada del módulo lunar Intrepid, del Apollo XII, a la Luna. En un principio, el Apollo XII fue la misión en el calendario del programa lunar de la NASA mejor posicionada para realizar el primer alunizaje si todas las misiones anteriores cumplían sus objetivos, pero alteraciones posteriores en el programa hicieron que ese hito le correspondiera al módulo lunar Eagle del Apollo XI. No obstante, el Apollo XII cumplió con sus objetivos y fue un gran avance dentro del programa lunar.
A sus 82 años, Alan Bean se dedica al arte. Lo hace a tiempo total desde que abandonó la NASA en 1981. En su estudio de su casa en Houston pinta cuadros en los que captura escenas lunares que escaparon a la cámara, escenas que viven en su imaginación y escenas que le gustaría haber vivido.
Con este motivo el propio Alan Bean concedió una entrevista a nuestro compañero Eduardo García Llama Ingeniero del Johnson Space Center para ser publicada en NASA EN ESPAÑOL (NASANET) que podéis leer y disfrutar de sus anécdotas en la Luna y de su dedicación como pintor.
This gorgeous color deep-sky photograph captured the red planet passing below two notable nebulae -- cataloged by the 18th century cosmic registrar Charles Messier as M8 and M20. M20 (upper right of center), the Trifid Nebula, presents a striking contrast in red/blue colors and dark dust lanes. Just below and to the left is the expansive, alluring red glow of M8, the Lagoon Nebula. Both nebulae are a few thousand light-years distant. By comparison, temporarily situated below them both, is the dominant "local" celestial beacon Mars. Taken late last month posing near its southernmost point in Earth's sky, the red planet was 14 light-minutes away:
'Eye of Sauron' provides new way of measuring distances to galaxies.
This new method is similar to what land surveyors use on Earth, by measuring the physical and angular, or ‘apparent’, size of a standard ruler in the galaxy, to calibrate the distance from this information.
In astronomy, as in life, what you see depends on how you see it. Our eyes are sensitive to visible light, a very narrow slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. When we look at M78, a cloud of gas and dust near Orion’s belt, we see only the material that emits or reflects visible light. Interstellar dust, thickly spread throughout the region, is cold and black.
But if you had infrared eyes, that dust would glow with thermal light in the far, far infrared. The APEX telescope is designed to see that light, and when combined with a visible light image from the Digitized Sky Survey, you get the incredible picture shown here. The APEX shot is colored orange, so what looks black to our eyes glows like fire in this image. The bright knots of light are where new stars are being born, enshrouded in thick dust. If all we could see was visible light, those stars would be completely invisible, and we’d be missing the best part of the show.
The nebula Messier 78 (also known as M 78 or NGC 2068) is a reflection nebula in the constellation Orion. The nebula is approximately 1,600 light-years from Earth. M78 is easily found in small telescopes as a hazy patch and involves two stars of 10th magnitude. These two stars, HD 38563A and HD 38563B, are responsible for making the cloud of dust in M78 visible by reflecting their light.
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A colorful gathering of middle-aged stars: the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile has captured a richly colorful view of the bright star cluster NGC 3532. Some of the stars still shine with a hot bluish color, but many of the more massive ones have become red giants and glow with a rich orange hue.
Crab Nebula: this sharp, ground-based telescopic view uses narrowband data to track emission from ionized oxygen and hydrogen atoms (in blue and red) and explore the still expanding cloud. One of the most exotic objects known to modern astronomers, the Crab Pulsar, a neutron star spinning 30 times a second, is visible as a bright spot near the nebula's center
Swift Mission Probes an Exotic Object: ‘Kicked’ Black Hole or Mega Star?
Astronomers have discovered an unusual source of light in a galaxy some 90 million light-years away. The dwarf galaxy Markarian 177 (center) and its unusual source SDSS1133 (blue) lie 90 million light-years away.
The object's curious properties make it a good match for a supermassive black hole ejected from its home galaxy after merging with another giant black hole. But astronomers can't yet rule out an alternative possibility. The source, called SDSS1133, may be the remnant of a massive star that erupted for a record period of time before destroying itself in a supernova explosion.
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, engineers and technicians test deploy the twin solar arrays on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft. Positioned in an orbit above the Red Planet, MAVEN will study the upper atmosphere of Mars in unprecedented detail.
This artist’s concept shows NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet.
The Mariner 4 spacecraft was assembled by engineers and technicians at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. It is seen here being prepared for a weight test on Nov. 1, 1963.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA’s Mariner 4 spacecraft lifts off Launch Pad 12 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop an Atlas Agena rocket on Nov. 28, 1964. One of the great successes of the early American space program, Mariner 4 took the first photos of another planet from space.
On July 15, 1965, Mariner 4 transmitted this image of the Martian surface from 7,829 miles away. The photograph shows a 94-mile diameter crater.
In 1954, Walt Disney, left, visited Dr. Wernher von Braun, then chief of the Guided Missile Development Operation Division for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Soon after, they collaborated on a series of three educational films about space exploration for the Disneyland television series.
On July 21, 1997, the Mars Pathfinder’s Sojourner rover takes its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer measurement on a rock near the landing site.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA's Curiosity rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager to capture this selfie. Taken on Oct. 31, 2012, it shows the rover at the site where the mission's first scoop sampling took place.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech
By Bob Granath NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida
When the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft arrived at the Red Planet on Sept. 21, it marked the continuation of exploration of one of Earth’s nearest celestial neighbors that began 50 years ago. In 1964, the Mariner 4 probe became the first to successfully fly by Mars, opening the way for future human exploration.
MAVEN was launched from the Kennedy Space Center atop an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 18, 2013. Following a roughly 10-month trip of over 442 million miles, the spacecraft was inserted into an elliptical orbit on Sept. 21.
MAVEN will study the Martian upper atmosphere while orbiting the planet. Mission goals include determining how the Martian atmosphere and water, presumed to have once been substantial, were lost over time. Spacecraft previously visiting Mars returned data indicating that liquid water once flowed on the Mars surface. However, water now cannot exist extensively on the Martian surface due to the low atmospheric pressure and surface temperatures. MAVEN will observe the upper atmosphere, and drivers of variability from the Sun, in order to estimate the loss of the Martian atmosphere and water over time.
The primary mission includes five “deep-dip” campaigns in which MAVEN’s lowest orbital altitude will be from 93 miles to about 77 miles. These measurements will provide information at the point where the upper and lower atmospheres meet, giving scientists a full profile of the upper tier.
“NASA has a long history of scientific discovery at Mars and the safe arrival of MAVEN opens another chapter,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “MAVEN will complement NASA’s other Martian robotic explorers -- and those of our partners around the globe -- to answer some fundamental questions about Mars and life beyond Earth.”
The exploration of Mars began a half-century ago with the Nov. 28, 1964, launch of Mariner 4, the first successful mission to the Red Planet. It was one of the great early successes for NASA, returning the first photographs of another planet from deep space.
Approximately 40 minutes prior to closest approach on July 15, 1965, at a range of 6,118 miles, the television camera began taking the first of 21 photographs.
A report by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-California Institute of Technology team that managed the flight stated that the surface was pock-marked much like the moon.
“There were more than 70 clearly distinguishable craters ranging in diameter from 4 to 120 km (2.5 to 74.5 miles),” the report said. “It seems likely that smaller craters exist; there also may be still larger craters, since Mariner 4 photographed, in all, about one percent of the Martian surface.”
A little more than an hour after the encounter, Mariner 4 dipped behind Mars, as viewed from Earth, in order to refract its radio signals through the Martian atmosphere. Data indicated that the atmospheric pressure on the surface was quite low.
The probe detected daytime surface temperatures of about minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit. A very weak radiation belt, about 0.1 percent that of the Earth's, was also discovered by Mariner 4.
In addition to unlocking key information about how to safely deliver future missions to the Martian surface, the spacecraft far outlasted its planned eight-month mission. Mariner 4 remained in solar orbit, continuing long-term studies of the solar wind and making coordinated measurements with the Mariner 5 mission to Venus. Contact was finally lost on Dec. 21, 1967.
Since Mariner 4, the lure of the Red Planet remains, with numerous spacecraft being launched to further explore Mars by the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, Japan, Great Britain, the European Space Agency, India and the People’s Republic of China. MAVEN makes the 16th successful American probe dispatched to Mars.
On Nov. 13, 1971, Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to be placed in orbit around another planet. After enduring months of dust storms, Mariner 9 sent back clear pictures of the Martian surface.
Vikings 1 and 2 were the first spacecraft to soft land on Mars and to successfully perform a mission returning data and photographs of the landscape. Viking 1 once held the record for the longest Mars surface mission of 2,307 days or 2,245 sols (Martian days). The record was broken by the Opportunity Rover on May 19, 2010. The term “sol” refers to the duration of a solar day on Mars, equal to 24 hours and 39 minutes on Earth.
NASA’s Mars Pathfinder landed a base station with a roving probe on Mars on July 4, 1997. The 23-pound wheeled robotic Mars rover, named Sojourner, made measurements of the elements found in the rocks and the Martian soil.
Among the most successful robotic explorers have been the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, known as Spirit and Opportunity. The rovers were designed to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars.
Mission planners initially hoped the two rovers would operate for 90 sols. After that time, both Spirit and Opportunity still had plenty of life, and multiple mission extensions kept Spirit functioning until March 22, 2010. Opportunity continues to operate, having traveled almost 25 miles across the Martian surface.
Launched by NASA to Mars on Nov. 26, 2011, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landed the Curiosity rover on Aug. 6, 2012. The compact car-sized rover is about twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity and carries over ten times the mass of scientific instruments.
MSL carried out a more accurate landing than previous spacecraft to Mars, aiming for a small target landing ellipse of only 4.3 by 12.4 miles, in the 96-mile-diameter Gale Crater. Curiosity now is investigating Mars' habitability, studying its climate and geology and collecting data in advance of a human expedition to the Red Planet.
The MSL Curiosity rover measured radiation on the way to Mars and is sending back data that will help in planning how to protect astronauts who travel to Mars.
Since Mariner 4’s arrival in 1965, a fleet of robotic spacecraft and rovers has landed on and orbited Mars. Collectively, they have dramatically increased the knowledge-base about the Red Planet, helping pave the way for future human explorers.
For many years, science fiction writers told fanciful stories about encounters with Martians. However, the first detailed study of the engineering challenges of an actual trip to the Red Planet was published by Wernher von Braun in his 1952 book, The Mars Project.
Von Braun began writing the manuscript in 1947 while working for the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas. At the time, he was helping launch rockets to the edge of space at the nearby White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.
In his book, von Braun suggested that a mission to Mars would require a fleet of spacecraft, noting that when Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain in 1492, it was with three ships.
“So it is with interplanetary exploration,” he wrote, “it must be done on a grand scale.”
American television audiences gained their first view of the possibility of human space travel in a series of episodes of Walt Disney’s popular show, Disneyland.Between 1955 and 1957, Disney presented what he called “science factual” episodes, including one entitled "Mars and Beyond."
“Together, von Braun (the engineer) and Disney (the artist) used the new medium of television to illustrate how high man might fly on the strength of technology and the spirit of human imagination,” wrote Mike Wright, the Marshall Space Flight Center’s historian, in an article on the Disney and von Braun’s collaboration.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket are designed to achieve that goal to expand human presence in deep space and enable exploration of new destinations in the solar system.
Orion is intended to meet the evolving needs of our nation's space program for decades to come. It will take crews of up to four astronauts farther than they’ve ever gone before, enabling missions to asteroids and, eventually, to Mars.
Scheduled for December, the upcoming Exploration Flight Test 1, or EFT-1, will be the first test flight for Orion.
NASA's SLS, a heavy-lift launch vehicle that will help provide that new capability for human exploration, will boost Orion off the planet in the first integrated flight test, Exploration Mission 1. SLS is designed to be flexible, launching spacecraft for both human and cargo missions.
One of the first steps to develop the “grand scale” technology needed for such an expedition will come from NASA’s initiative to use advanced solar electric propulsion to robotically capture an asteroid and redirect it to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. Astronauts then would launch aboard an Orion spacecraft atop an SLS rocket to collect samples of and explore the relocated asteroid.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden believes that the latest spacecraft to arrive at Mars, along with those that preceded it, are the stepping stones needed to reach the ultimate goal of human exploration.
“As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet,” Bolden said. “It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”
This artist concept depicts NASA’s Space Launch System, which will be the most powerful rocket ever built. It is designed to boost the agency’s Orion spacecraft on deep space missions, including to an asteroid and, ultimately, to Mars.