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Asteroids and Black Holes | SciByte 20

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We take a look at asteroid flyby’s, black hole data, new elements, Mars water, the brain, headaches, Mars500, health sensors in our cars and game systems, and take another peek at what’s up in the sky this week.

SciByte will provide you with a treasure trove of small talk for your next cocktail party, the knowledge to show off to friends and family, and provide you the means, with the help of our trusty show notes, to further investigate the things that interest you the most.

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Show Notes:


Nov. 8 Asteroid Flyby

Direct Observations of disk around black hole

*— NEWS BYTE — *

Three New Elements Added To The Periodic Table

Mars’ history is a fluid situation

  • The low down
  • The picture painted by a review paper in the November 3 issue of Nature.
  • An international team of researchers crafted a tale of Mars’ parched, frigid history
  • Four billion years ago, the Martian surface may have been cold and dry — not warm, watery and more Earthlike than it is today, as many scientists have suggested.
  • Instead of saturating the dusty surface, fluids appeared only occasionally, quickly shaping channels and other landforms that bear watery footprints.
  • Beneath the planet’s reddish, rocky sands lurked a warm and wet subterranean environment, a potential incubator powered by hydrothermal activity and revealed when meteorite impacts blasted telltale minerals from the planet’s crust.
  • Water-carved landscapes, like snaking channels and river deltas, played a large role in producing the current view of a warm and watery Martian past.
  • Significance
  • If the authors are right, scientists hunting for evidence of past Martian life might be better off using a shovel
  • While the evidence for subterranean hydrothermal activity is strong, Bishop says it’s unlikely that transient or small amounts of surface water quickly crafted some of the river features, valley networks, or layered beds seen across Mars.
  • In September, NASA announced that Opportunity had found a rock at the edge of Endeavour Crater that looked as though it had been formed in a subterranean hydrothermal system.
  • Whether life might have evolved in the Martian subsurface is an open question. But on Earth, even multicellular organisms can live in the deep.
  • Multimedia
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars’ history is a fluid situation @
  • ‘Tisdale 2’ Rock, Next Stop for Opportunity @

Researchers identify brain cells responsible for keeping us awake

Headache tree is a pain in the brain

  • The low down
  • One whiff of bay laurel tree can spur intense, excruciating pain — and now scientists know why.
  • An ingredient in the tree sets off a chain of events that eventually amps up blood flow to the brain’s outer membrane.
  • The protein tickles the same cellular detector that responds to painfully cold stimuli and the sinus-clearing scent of wasabi and mustard oil
  • This protein prompts blood vessels to swell, and scientists think this swelling puts pressure on the skull and nerves, causing pain.
  • Significance
  • Other headache triggers interact with some of the same cellular machinery, suggesting they all work via the same pain-inducing mechanism.
  • Stimulating this chemical detector ultimately triggers the release of a particular protein implicated in migraine headaches
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Headache tree is a pain in the brain @

Mars500 experiment ends

Health check on the road

  • The low down
  • A research team at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM), in collaboration with researchers at the BMW Group develop a sensor system integrated into the steering wheel that can monitor the driver’s state of health while driving
  • monitors vital signs such as heart rate, skin conductance and oxygen saturation in the blood via simple sensors in the steering wheel
  • A driver’s skin conductance, for instance, reveals whether he or she is under severe stress, or whether his or her blood pressure exceeds a critical value
  • Two commercially available sensors are key elements of the integrated vital signs measurement system
  • One of them shines infrared light into the fingers and measures the heart rate and oxygen saturation via reflected light
  • One of them shines infrared light into the fingers and measures the heart rate and oxygen saturation via reflected light
  • Significance
  • the device might be used recognize the onset fainting spells or heart attacks
  • When a stress situation is detected by means of skin conductance values, phone calls can be blocked, for instance, or the volume of the radio turned down automatically.
  • With more serious problems the system could turn on the hazard warning lights, reduce the speed or even induce automated emergency braking
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Health check on the road @
  • Health Check on the Road: Safe Stop When the Driver Can’t Go On @ ScienceNEwslineTechnology

Sony Patent Reveals Biometric Controllers

  • The low down
  • Measuring skin moisture, heart rhythm and muscle movement
  • The last time biometric feedback was introduced to mainstream games was Nintendo’s vitality sensor, which was announced at E3 2009 but never released.
  • Mentioned in the application
  • Character changes based on biometric feedback, such as a character sweating when you’re nervous.
  • Tensing up your muscles to absorb an attack or power up shields
  • Weapons that become more accurate or less steady depending on your level of stress
  • A boost to run faster, jump higher and punch harder while stressed
  • Rapid decreases in health if your stress increases
  • Different attacks based on stress levels.
  • Background music that matches your stress level, or becomes more relaxing if you’re stressed
  • Scaling difficulty based on stress level.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Sony Patent Reveals Biometric Controllers

Largest Sunspot in Years Observed on the Sun


Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo–1


Looking back this week

  • Nov 11, 1572 – 439 years ago : Tycho’s Supernova – Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe began his meticulous observations of the supernova. Brahe was at the beginning of his career in 1572, and it was this supernova that inspired him to devote his lifetime to making accurate measurements of the positions of the stars and planets. Thus 16th-century astronomers learned that the heavens were not immutable, as had been believed. Brahe’s book on his observations, De Nova Stella, originated the word “nova.”
  • Nov 14, 1666 – 345 years ago : First blood transfusion – the English physician, Samuel Pepys, made an record in his diary describing Richard Lower making the first documented blood transfusion.
  • Nov 10, 1885 – 126 years ago : Motorcycle – the world’s first motorcycle, designed by Gottlieb Daimler, made its debut. The frame and wheels were made of wood. A leather belt transfered power from the engine to large brass gears mounted to the rear wheel. The single cylinder engine had a bore of 58mm and stroke of 100mm giving a displacement of 264cc’s. The engine gave 0.5hp at 700 rpm. The top speed for the motorcycle was 7mph [12 km/h]
  • Nov 12, 1901 – 110 years ago : First Nobel Prize in Physics – The first Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Wilhelm Roentgen for his discovery of X-rays.
  • Nov 11, 1925 – 86 years ago : Cosmic rays – the discovery of cosmic rays was announced in Madison, Wisconsin by Robert A. Millikan who coined their name.
  • Nov 12–13, 1927 – 84 years ago : Holland Tunnel – the Holland Tunnel connecting N.Y. and N.J., the world’s first underwater vehicular tunnel, officially opened.
  • Nov 13, 1946 – 65 years ago : Artificial snow – artificial snow from a natural cloud was produced over Mount Greylock, Mass., for the first time in the U.S. An airplane spread small pellets of dry-ice (frozen carbon dioxide) for three miles at a height of 14,000 ft. Although the snow fell an estimated 3,000 feet, it evaporated as it fell through dry air, and never reached the ground.
  • Nov 09, 1957 – 54 years ago : Laser invented – Gordon Gould began to write down the principles of what he called a laser in his notebook during a sleepless Saturday night. By Wednesday morning he had a notary witness and date his notebook. Unfortunately, he misunderstood the patent process, and did not file promptly. But, other scientists, did file for a patent on their similar but independent discovery of how to make a laser. When Gould belatedly tried to get a patent, it took decades to eventually establish priority and gain what had then grown to be profitable royalties from the established laser industry.
  • Nov 13, 1971 – 40 years ago : Mars satellite – Mariner–9, the first man-made object to orbit another planet, entered Martian orbit. The mission of the unmanned craft was to return photographs mapping 70% of the surface, and to study the planet’s thin atmosphere, clouds, and hazes, together with its surface chemistry and seasonal changes.
  • Nov 10, 1983 – 28 years ago : First computer virus – U.S. student Fred Cohen presented to a security seminar the results of his test – the first documented virus, created as an experiment in computer security.In the paper, he defined a virus as “a program that can ‘infect’ other programs by modifying them to include a … version of itself”.
  • Nov 09, 1991 – 20 years ago : Nuclear fusion power – In Culham, England, nuclear fusion was first harnessed to produce a significant amount of power. Though lasting for only two seconds, about 1.7 megawatts of electric power was produced.

Post Show Correction

  • One letter can make a world of difference …
  • Today’s power plants use fission to generate heat and do useful work. The creation of the first man-made fission reactor, known as Chicago Pile–1, achieved criticality on December 2, 1942. Fusion differs from the fission reactions used in current nuclear power plants for it occurs when light nuclei travelling at high speed combine, without radioactive waste as a byproduct.

Looking up this week

  • You might have seen …

  • Tuesday, Nov. 8 : The bright “star” near the Moon is Jupiter. Although they look close together, Jupiter is 1,400 times farther away.

  • Tuesday, Nov. 8 : 2005 YU55 passed closer to us than the Moon; closest approach was at 6:28 p.m. EST. ’s visible across North America in the ensuing hours, dim at 11th or 12th magnitude and moving fast Chart

  • Keep an eye out for …

  • Wednesday, Nov. 9 : In bright twilight just 20 or 30 minutes after sunset, bring binoculars to a location with a clear view practically down to the southwest horizon. There will be Venus

  • Thursday, Nov. 10 : Full Moon

  • Thursday-Sunday Nov. 10–13 : Mars moves past Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, the lion. They rise shortly after midnight and are high in the southeast at first light. Mars looks like a bright orange star with Regulus quite close to the right or lower right.

  • Friday, Nov. 11 : Venus and Mercury are quite lo

Near Earth Objects | SciByte 12

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This week on SciByte we take a look at Near Earth Object, what qualifies as a NEO, what dangers they actually pose and some of the impacts that had already occurred on the Earth. Plus we take a quick look at at the DAWN spacecraft that is currently orbiting the asteroid Vesta and has plans to visit the asteroid Ceres as well.

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Show Notes:

What is a Near Earth Object? NEO
  • A Solar System object, like comets or asteroids, whose orbit brings them into close proximity, less than 1.3 AU, with the Earth.
  • That’s 15,245.6 times the diameter of the Earth, or 508.2 times the distance from the center of the Earth to the center of the Moon.
    • 1.3 AU = 120,842,549.5 mi / 194,477,231.9 km
    • Astronomical unit (AU) : 92,955,807.3 mi / 149,597,870.7 km
    • Earth’s Diameter :7,926.4 mi / 12,756.3 km
    • Moon Orbit ~= 238,858.2 mi / 384,405 km
    • Moon Orbit ~= 30 Earth Diameters
Asteroids and Meteoroids and Meteorites … oh my!
  • Asteroid : A relatively small, inactive, rocky body orbiting the Sun.
  • Comet : A relatively small, at times active, object whose ices can vaporize in sunlight forming an atmosphere (coma) of dust and gas and, sometimes, a tail of dust and/or gas.
  • Meteoroid : A small particle, conventionally below 32ft / 10m, from a comet or asteroid orbiting the Sun.
  • Meteor : The light phenomena which results when a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes; a shooting star.
  • Meteorite : A meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands upon the Earth’s surface.
What was that thing I saw in the sky?
  • It depends on when and what you saw …
  • Meteors, often called shooting stars or fireballs, streak across the sky in a matter of seconds, can leave a faint ionization trail visible for minutes, and can be as bright as the Moon sometimes.
  • Satellites in orbit around the Earth, are much slower moving and relatively constant in brightness. Just after sunset and before sunrise, are likely times to see them as this is the time when they are reflecting sunlight but it is still dark on the surface of the Earth. (Some satellites can flare up for a few seconds and become very bright when their solar panels reflect the sunlight.)
Asteroids / NEO’s Facts
  • The mass of all the objects of the Main asteroid belt, lying between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, is about 4 percent of the mass of the Moon.
  • Objects spend on average a few million years as NEOs before hitting the Sun, being ejected from the Solar System, or (for a small number of them) hitting a planet.
How Many Near-Earth Objects Have Been Discovered So Far?
  • August 8, 2011 : 8,168 Near-Earth objects have been discovered.
    • 828 have a diameter of approximately 0.6mi / 1 km or larger
    • 1,243 have been classified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs).
    • NASA – How many NEO’s have been discovered?
      *Generally the hype from an object is more due to the ‘late discovery’ of an object. With some being discovered mere days before an encounter.
Potentially hazardous object
  • An asteroid or comet with an orbit such that it has the potential to make close approaches, within 0.05 AU, to the Earth and a size large enough to cause significant regional damage in the event of impact.
  • That’s 586.4 times the diameter of the Earth, or 19.5 times the distance from the center of the Earth to the center of the Moon.
    • Astronomical unit (AU) : 92,955,807.3 mi / 149,597,870.7 km
    • Earth’s Diameter : 7,926.4 mi / 12,756.3 km
    • Moon Orbit ~= 238,858.2 mi / 384,405 km</li>
      <li>Moon Orbit ~=
      30 Earth Diameters
  • Diameter is at least 492ft / 150 m.
    • Would cause regional devastation to human settlements. No impact of this size has occurred during human history.
    • Such impacts would occur on average around once per 10,000 years.
How often does the Earth get a close encounter?
  • Objects with diameters of 16-30 ft / 5-10 m impact the Earth’s atmosphere approximately once per year. These ordinarily explode in the upper atmosphere, and most or all of the solids are vaporized
    • These can produce as much energy as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima
    • ~15,000 tonnes of TNT
    • Every 2000–3000 years NEAs produce explosions comparable to the one observed at Tunguska in 1908
  • Objects with a diameter of one kilometer hit the Earth an average of twice every million year interval
  • Large collisions with five kilometer objects happen approximately once every ten million years.
Impact Craters on Earth
  • It was around the turn of the century that the idea that craters were due to impacts rather than volcanism.
  • Grove Karl Gilbert : In 1892 Gilbert would be among the first to propose that the moon’s craters were caused by impact rather than volcanism
  • Daniel Barringer : In 1903, mining engineer and businessman Daniel M. Barringer suggested that the crater had been produced by the impact of a large iron-metallic meteorite.
  • It wasn’t until 1960 that we had definitive proof that there were actual impact craters on Earth.
  • This was proved by Eugene Shoemaker, the same guy who co-discovered the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that hit Jupiter in 1994, studying Meteor Crater in Arizona.
  • The key discovery was the presence in the crater of the mineral stishovite, a rare form of silica found only where quartz-bearing rocks have been severely shocked by an instantaneous overpressure.
  • Where are all the Earth impact we know about?
How do we categorize the danger level?
  • Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale : a logarithmic scale used by astronomers to rate the potential hazard of impact of a near-earth object (NEO) and combines two types of data; probability of impact, and estimated kinetic yield, into a single “hazard” value.
    • A rating of 0 indicates a low hazard level
    • A rating of +2 would indicate the hazard is 100 times more likely
  • Torino Scale : a method for categorizing the impact hazard associated with near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids and comets. It is intended as a tool for astronomers and the public to assess the seriousness of collision predictions, by combining probability statistics and known kinetic damage potentials into a single threat value.
NEO Asteroid 99942 : Apophis
  • Diameter : 886 ft / 270 m
  • 2.9 x height Statue of Liberty [ 306 ft / 93.47 m ]
  • 2 x height of Pyramids of Giza [ 449.5 ft / 137 m ]
  • Rotation : 30.4 h
  • Mass [ 59,524,810,800 lb / 27,000,000,000 kg ]
  • 4.5 x Great Pyramids of Giza : 13,227,735,700 lb / 6,000,000,000 kg
  • 519 x RMS Titantic : 114,640,376 lb / 52,000,000 kg
  • Caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 because initial observations indicated a small probability (up to 2.7%) that it would strike the Earth in 2029.
  • Additional observations provided improved predictions that eliminated the possibility of an impact on Earth or the Moon in 2029
  • However, a possibility remained that during the 2029 close encounter with Earth, Apophis would pass through a gravitational keyhole, a precise region in space no more than about a half-mile wide, that would set up a future impact on April 13, 2036.
  • This possibility kept the asteroid at Level 1 on the Torino impact hazard scale until August 2006, when the probability that Apophis will pass through the keyhole was determined to be very small.
  • Apophis broke the record for the highest level on the Torino Scale, being, for only a short time, a level 4, before it was lowered
NEO Asteroid 99942 : Apophis what DID NOT happen
  • Apophis Path of Risk
  • Energy Estimates were originally equivalent of 1480 megatons of TNT, but were later refined to estimate was 880 megatons, then revised to 510 megatons
    • Barringer Crater or the Tunguska event are estimated to be in the 3–10 megaton range
  • Biggest hydrogen bomb ever exploded, the Tsar Bomba, was around 50 megatons
  • Krakatoa was the equivalent of roughly 200 megatons
  • Chicxulub impact has been estimated to have released about as much energy as 100,000,000 megatons
  • It was estimated that the hypothetical impact of Apophis in countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, which are in the path of risk, could have more than 10 million casualties
DAWN Spacecraft (
  • Science Payload that includes : Camera’s, Visible and Infrared Spectrometer, Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrometer (GraND), and Gravity Science
  • Images of Vesta and Ceres in three colors and black and white
  • Full surface with mapping spectrometer
  • In three bands, 0.35 to 0.9 micron, 0.8 to 2.5 micron and 2.4 to 5.0 micron
  • Neutron and gamma ray spectra to produce maps of the surface elemental composition of each asteroid
  • Including the abundance of major rock-forming elements (O, Mg, Al, Si, Ca, Ti, and Fe), trace elements (Gd and Sm), long-lived radioactive elements (K, Th, and U), and light elements such as H, C, and N, which are the major constituents of ices.
  • Radio tracking to determine mass, gravity field, principal axes, rotational axis and moments of inertia.
Other Spacecraft Missions to Comets & Asteroids

Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR)
Deep Impact
Deep Space 1 (DS1)
Hayabusa (MUSES-C)

Additional Research Material

Interactive : Impact Earth!
NASA : Near Earth Object Program
Meteor Crater / Barringer Crater
WIKI : East Antarctica Crater
WIKI : Near Earth Object
WIKI : List of impact craters on Earth
WIKI : Tunguska event
WIKI : Chicxulub crater
WIKI : Meteor Crater

Tracking Study’s or Groups

Asiago-DLR Asteroid Survey
Japan Spaceguard Association
Campo Imperatore Near-Earth Object Survey
Catalina Sky Survey
Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search
Space Watch
Near Earth Asteroid Tracking
The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research

Social Media

Facebook : Asiago-DLR Asteroid Survey
Facebook : Campo Imperatore Near-Earth Object Survey
Facebook : Catalina Sky Survey
Facebook : Near Earth Asteroid Tracking
Facebook : The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research
Twitter : Catalina Sky Survey

Related News Stories

NASA : Near Earth Object News
NASA : Asteroid 2005 YU55 to Approach Earth on November 8, 2011
NASA : 2010 TK7: The First Earth Trojan Asteroid : Five days after being discovered, an interplanetary visitor whizzes past
National Geographic : Huge Impact Crater Found in Remote Congo (March 2011)
National Geographic : “Fresh” Crater Found in Egypt; Changes Impact Risk? (July 2010)
National Geographic : India Asteroid Killed Dinosaurs, Made Largest Crater? (Oct 2009)
Wired : Asteroid Impact Craters on Earth as Seen From Space (Aug 2009)
National Geographic : Huge Impact Crater Uncovered in Canadian Forest (Nov 2008)
National Geographic : Giant Meteor Fireball Explodes Over Northwest U.S. (Feb 2008)
National Geographic : Crater From 1908 Russian Space Impact Found, Team Says (Nov 2007)
National Geographic : Photo in the News: Mysterious Space Object Crashes Into House (Jan 2007)
National Geographic : Meteorite Impact Reformulated Earth’s Crust, Study Shows (Jan 2006)