News for Nerds - The Cosmic Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 2/15/2013 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The Cosmic Edition

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we're turning our attention to the skies with a handful of space-related stories. Let's get started...

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UPDATE. A fiery piece of space debris rocketed into the Earth's atmosphere early this morning (Feb 15), and the resulting explosion damaged buildings and injured hundreds of people in Russia. Details are just starting to trickle in, but early reports say that most of the injuries came from cuts due to flying glass.

It will be a while before we know the extent of the damage, but it's just another reminder that our little blue planet could be in the crosshairs of a much larger space rock. And on that note...

ORIGINAL POST. Asteroid 2012 DA14 is set to buzz past Earth today, coming within 17,200 miles of a direct impact. That's closer than some of our most important orbiting satellites.

At roughly 150-feet wide, it's big enough to do some damage if it were to hit us -- and it might just get the chance, eventually. You see, 2012 DA14 is on a more-or-less yearly orbit of Earth, so even though it'll miss us this time around, it's going to get plenty more opportunities, starting next year.

The concept of an asteroid collision is more science fact than science fiction (see the story about Russia, above).There are at least half a million other near-Earth objects floating around our galactic neighborhood, and astronomers estimate that the Earth gets whacked by one on the scale of 2012 DA14 every 1,200 years or so, on average. The last time was in 1908, when a similar asteroid demolished 820 square miles of Siberian forest. Yikes.

NBC science editor Alan Boyle does a nice job documenting some of the other major asteroid impacts (and scares) that Earth has endured, starting with the dinosaur-killer 65 million years ago. And for good measure, here's a video from NASA:

- story from The Daily Mirror (UK) and NBC News

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Speaking of NASA, their Curiosity rover reached yet another milestone last week, drilling into Martian rock for the very first time.

Curiosity used a drill carried at the end of a robotic arm to drill a hole 2.5 inches deep into a patch of sedimentary bedrock. The images were immediately beamed back to Earth, and the actual sample is being processed and analyzed at this very moment. It is expected that this rock holds evidence pointing to wet Martian environments that are now ancient history.

"The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars," said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. That's a pretty wild concept, when you think about it.

If you're not following Curiosity's progress on Facebook and/or Twitter, I suggest you do so now.

- from NASA

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And finally, if you've ever wanted to help name a celestial body, now's your chance.

Two small moons of Pluto, currently called P4 and P5 after the mall parking structures that they resemble, were discovered within the past two years by the SETI Institute in California. SETI, therefore, retains the rights to name the moons, but they want your help.

On Monday, SETI announced that they have opened a contest where the public can vote on possible names -- and even write-in whatever personal favorite you feel was overlooked.

Please keep in mind that Pluto is named for the mythic king of the Greek underworld, so Pluto's other moons -- Charon, Nix, and Hydra -- all fit the Greek mold. Some of the early contenders for P4 and P5 include Orpheus, Cerberus, and Zach Galifinakis.

Cast your vote right here. Good luck!

- from USA Today

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That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!

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