Astronomy to me is one of the most fascinating things on earth, maybe because i is as close as most people will get to travelling from earth and exploring the infinite beyond. I have always held a strong interest from a young age and where most people tend move on from that to sport or other such things my unending interest kept me close to studying astronomy.
I have even added a conservatory to my house that acts as my own observatory, although it may not be on the scale that dream of it still has had a lot of money spent on it and I can spend many cloudless nights sat there dreaming of making a discovery that would shake the world of Astronomy.
Although I did have an issue to start off with in regards to getting right up to a telescope, I hade a mole on my nose and although it caused no medical issues it did mean that I couldn’t get right up to the eyepiece and for many years my star gazing suffered because of that and so I decided that the only option available to me was to go down the route of mole removal and so I decided to do some research on the subject.
It turns out that it was a far more common procedure than I would ever have imagined and rather than it being just for the rich and famous more and more people are looking towards this sort of surgery. I was in and out in no time at all and after the short healing period that had been recommended to me by my surgeon I went back to my favourite telescope and could not believe the difference it made to the whole experience.
I am sure that before I got this done I would have had no chance of making the kind of discovery that would see my name in astronomy journals around the globe, now I am more confident than ever.
Asteroids are distinguished as small solar system bodies that orbit a sun. Specifically, we consider small planetoids that orbit around our sun to the distance of Jupiter to be asteroids. Asteroids are usually rocky or metallic. Their composition varies greatly from one asteroid to the next. Due to their orbit in the solar system many astronomers prefer to call asteroids ‘minor planets’.
Many asteroids are believed to be the remnants of planetesimals. A planetesimal is the growing aggregation of cosmic dust from such things as the disintegration of red stars caused by stellar winds. When the dust collection reaches about 1 km wide the mass has strong enough gravitational forces to hold itself together and to continue binding into a bigger mass that assumes a stable orbit.
Most asteroids in our solar system are located around Jupiter. It is believed that most asteroids were formed near Jupiter. This distinguishes asteroids from comets which are formed often farther out in the solar system. Moreover, comets have a red tail or coma. When the comet becomes extinct and loses its red coma it is possible to describe it as an asteroid.
Although most asteroids are found between Jupiter and Mars with non-eccentric orbits (not elongated) there are a few that pass close to the Earth. These are known as Near-Earth Asteroids or NEAs. How dangerous are NEAs? That is a matter of orbit and mass. In 2010, 7,075 NEAs were listed, of these 500 to 1,000 are believed to be 1km or over in diameter. These are the near-Earth Asteroids that we have to keep tabs on.
Further reading: Stars and Carbon
It was an asteroid 65 million years ago that hit the Earth in Russia and set up a plume of smoke that enveloped the earth. This caused years of wintry conditions. It was this episode that caused the demise of the dinosaurs and the ascendency of birds and mammals. We thus owe our evolutionary position to asteroids. However, we are at threat of losing that ascendency should another major asteroid hit the earth.
Astronomers take the threat of asteroid collision very seriously. An asteroid that hits land brings with it intense heat that will start major fires. If the asteroid hits water it can cause tsunamis up to 4 km high. Where ever it hits there is sure to be a chain reaction of earthquakes affecting many parts of the world. And then of course there is the dust that blocks out the sun.
The first thought by scientists was to meet asteroids that had a collision orbit with Earth in space and blow them apart with nuclear devices. This suggestion became the basis of the movie Armageddon. Scientists have long since discredited this idea because the asteroid would break into small parts that would still be likely to hit the earth and cause possibly irrevocable damage.
A better suggestion has been made. That is the solar collector. This would be in effect a giant reflective panel that would be sent into space to move parallel to the dangerous asteroid and direct the rays of the sun on to one spot of the rock. The asteroid would heat up and the steam given off from the burning point would send vapors into space that would change the orbit of the asteroid.
This is an ingenious idea and more sophisticated than the hung-ho approach of just nuking any threats to Earth. The technology still needs to be developed. Although NASA and the scientific community now take asteroid impact seriously politicians are forever cutting space program budgets when the economy takes a nose dive. Perhaps it is only China with its massive liquidity that can really muster the long term financial resources to ready a solar collector for the day when it is needed.
It isn’t every day that a crisis, a true crisis hits within astronomy. We’re not talking about a long range rover going missing in transit, although a government losing millions of dollars is never a good thing for the industry. Instead we’re talking about a true crisis, lives being put at stake. Unlike a lot of industries those of us who work in astronomy can’t simply ask for a really good set of wine gift baskets from friends and watch what unfolds, we are required to take action.
So what’s the worst scenario? Pretty easily it is a major asteroid heading toward Earth. We’re talking Armageddon style. No we wouldn’t be responsible for taking action, but before a government decided to try and take action we’d have to have some type of agreement of what really was about to happen. Finding that agreement under such heavy pressure wouldn’t be easy.