Giant asteroid ‘heading for Earth in 2182’

A giant asteroid called 1999 RQ36 may crash into 

Earth on September 24 2182, scientists believe.

A giant asteroid called 1999 RQ36 might crash into Earth on September 24 2182, scientists believe.

Asteroids are blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs. Photo: GETTY
A team of experts, including some working for NASA, believes the 612-yards-wide object has a one-in-a-thousand chance of an impact 172 years from now.
The odds of a crash are considerably shorter than those given for the asteroid Apophis, which has a 1 in 250,000 chance of striking Earth in 2036.

A report in the solar system journal, Icarus, said the odds of an earlier impact were more remote but increased by 2080 when its orbit will bring it swinging back towards Earth.
Maria Eugenia Sansaturio from the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain, who co-led the research, told Universe Today that knowledge of the risk posed by the asteroid “may help design in advance mechanisms aimed at deviating the asteroid’s path.”
It was first discovered in 1999 and is more than twice the size of Apophis. If it were to hit it is likely to cause widespread devastation and possible mass extinction.
Sansaturio added: “The consequence … is not just the likelihood of a comparatively large impact, but also that a realistic deflection procedure, or path deviation could only be made before the impact in 2080, and more easily, before 2060.2
Previous asteroid impacts are thought to have created massive craters and tsunamis and have even been blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Dance of the Planets Gets Intimate

This cosmic ballet is reshaping what astronomers thought was

possible in solar systems beyond our own.

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Irene Klotz
By Irene Klotz Fri Jul 30, 2010 07:00 AM ET 2 Comments | Leave a Comment

  • Astronomers find a dying star that has two massive planets orbiting as close as about 33 million miles apart.
  • How the planets managed to survive and settle into their unexpected but stable orbits is a mystery.
  • Study is under way to probe 450 similar targets for planetary systems.

The closer the planets, the trickier the balancing act due to the planets’ increasingly more powerful gravitational influences on each other. Click to enlarge this image.

Two giant planets circling a dying star about 223 light-years away sweep past one another closer than any other planetary pair, demonstrating orbital mechanics that break the bounds of what scientists thought possible.
The planets, which are about the size of Jupiter, likely formed 2.5 billion to 3 billion years ago from of disk of dust and gas circling a massive newborn star, now known as HD200964.
Typically, gravity ends up balancing planet pairs so that the inner world completes two orbits for every one made by its outlying sibling, among other configurations. HD200964’s inner Jupiter is making four orbits for every three completed by its partner.
The closer the planets, the trickier the balancing act due to the planets’ increasingly powerful gravitational influences on each other.
“The tighter you get the planets, the more fine-tuned their steps have to be or they’re going to force each other out,” astronomer John Johnson, with the California Institute of Technology, told Discovery News.
The synchronicity at HD200964 is particularly exquisite. An orbital dance brings the two giant planets as close as about 33 million miles to one another. In our solar system, Jupiter and its nearest neighbor Saturn are never closer than 10 times that distance. The planetary pair orbiting HD200964 is separated by a distance similar to the divide between Earth and Mars.
“They’re an island of stability in a sea of instability,” said University of Florida’s Eric Ford. “In the case of HD200964, it is particularly dramatic because it’s a pretty small island.”
Astronomers have been keeping a close watch on HD200964 for about five years, teasing out details from weird wobbles in its light waves, due to the planets’ gravitational tugs. They then run the data in computer models. The star is among 450 similar targets being scanned for planetary systems.
“One of the things we’d like to understand is how planet formation is impacted by the type of star,” Ford told Discovery News.
HD200964 is not the only star in the study that has closely orbiting planets. A pair of planets circling 24 Sextanis, located 244 light-years away, pass as close as about 70 million miles from one another.
Johnson estimates that about 20 or even 25 percent of massive stars like HD2000964 and 24 Sextanis have large, Jupiter-class planets.
The research is being published in the Astronomical Journal.

English – The Great Bastard Language




How many countries would you say use some form or other of the English language? Well I can tell you because I have just counted them – seventeen in all, (see the list below) not including the use of the English language by various commercial users like the airlines of the world, international shipping, and international search and rescue organisations etc, etc.

When I was a young boy here in the English county of Suffolk, the older generation’s use of colloquial English differed from our cousins in the next county to the north – Norfolk. If you travelled south from here to Essex you would stand out like a sore thumb not only by your county accent but by the way you spoke.

When I left here for the distant shores of New Zealand in the late 1950’s with my parents, within a year I lost my Suffolk accent, trading it in for a soft Kiwi one. For the next forty two years I lived, breathed, and devoured English as it is spoken in New Zealand. Until I returned here to England in 2000, I didn’t fully appreciate just how different I sounded, and how I used the language compared to an English speaking Englishman.

My first meeting with an elderly cousin of my father quickly made me realise how jealously guarded the English version of the language was by his generation. He came from that generation that had grown up when England still thought of itself as the leader of an Empire; where correct pronunciation was king, and to have any kind of county accent was anathema to their ears.

As soon as I opened my mouth you could see him visibly cringe as pure Kiwi came flooding out, assaulting his ears. To his generation, my accent, which I still proudly retain, spoke to him of colonies of the British Empire far off in the South Seas.

I wonder how he would react to the seventeen forms of English now in use across the world?

Despite what he and his generation might say, the English language is not a pure language. It is an amalgam of many early European languages, full of borrowed or corrupted words from countries like Germany and France to name but two for example.

Does it really matter in this day and age if it is no longer spoken in the received pronunciation of the old BBC announcers of yesteryear? Language is a living thing, constantly in a state of flux. What difference does it make if each of the seventeen countries using the language spells the same word differently?

Take the word aluminium for example. Here in England it is spelt as I have just written it, while in the United States it is spelt aluminum. Does it matter? No of course it doesn’t. For a bastard, the English language is doing alright thank you very much and long may it continue to do so…

Countries using their own version of the English language:




Hong Kong






New Zealand

Republic of the Philippines


South Africa

Trinidad and Tobago

United Kingdom

United States



A question of loyalty

I’ve just finished reading Australian author Graham Storrs’ latest blog post on the pros and cons of self-publishing as opposed to conventional publishing and to what degree frustration can tip some authors towards self publishing.

For many years I was deeply frustrated by the instant rejection slips sent via snail mail and email to my first novel. In fact I endured ten long soul destroying and frustrating years of it before I finally met an editor who believed in what I was doing.

At any point in those ten years was I tempted to go down the self publishing route? No I was not.

These days with the advent of the internet and the plethora of self publishing aids available, I can understand how it seems to be the ‘easy option’ for most first timers. With self publishing you more or less have total control over every aspect of how your book is put together, how it is presented for sale etc, etc. But at what cost to you the author?

If you wish to be taken seriously as a writer, I firmly believe that traditional publishing is still the way to go. I also believe that if you start out in traditional publishing, you should stick with it. Don’t change horses mid race by going behind your publishers back and enter your work into the self publishing world, unless you want to make a load of enemies along the way.

If you want to self publish then do so by all means. Your ‘warts and all’ product will get out there just the same as the professionally polished and presented traditionally published product.

But for every successful J.A.Konrath in the self publishing world, and he is very successful by the way, there are thousands of ‘also ran’s’ with no hope of selling their shoddily prepared product, and who will be lucky to sell many copies beyond their immediate nearest and dearest relatives.

The same can also be said for the traditional publishing world as well in one sense. Your initial sales for that first novel may be low, but at least the product has been professionally produced and marketed and because it has been placed in the marketplace by a traditional publisher, the professional reviewers will at least take a look at it. Can the same be said for the self published product?

The decision is yours to make; no one else can make it for you. To either go down the traditional route or to follow the very expensive self publish route, shelling out endless amounts of money to editors and illustrators and publishing presses that don’t care about the quality of the product they print, is entirely up to you.

I know which route I would choose, do you?

Since I wrote this I now self-publish…

Very Early Warning: 1-in-1,000 Chance of Asteroid Impact in 2182

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Analysis by Ian O’Neill Tue Jul 27, 2010 02:33 PM ET 1 Comments | Leave a Comment
This isn’t an urgent call to arms, but it’s certainly a future date to consider. In the year 2182 — 172 years time — there’s the possibility that we might be hit by an asteroid with potential to cause some significant global turmoil. This long-distance forecast could help mankind determine whether asteroid deflection techniques are warranted, especially when given nearly two centuries of lead time.
SLIDE SHOW: Top 10 Ways to Stop an Asteroid

The not-so-romantically named (101955) 1999 RQ36 — discovered in 1999 — measures approximately 510 meters in diameter and is classified as an Apollo asteroid. Apollo asteroids pose a threat to our planet as they routinely cross Earth’s orbit.
With a one-in-a-thousand chance of 1999 RQ36 hitting Earth — with half of this probability indicating a 2182 impact — the threat might not sound too acute.
But compare this with the panic that ensued with the discovery of 99942 Apophis in 2004. Initially, it was thought there was a 1-in-233 chance of Apophis hitting us in 2029. This estimate was alarming; it was the first time an asteroid had been promoted to “Level 4” on the Torino Scale — a near-Earth object (NEO) impact hazard categorization method.
After further observations, the threat of an Apophis impact was lowered, and now the chance of the 270 meter space rock hitting us in 2029 is zero. The probability of impact during the next fly-by, in 2036, has recently been downgraded to a 1-in-250,000, and a third pass in 2068 has a tiny one-in-three million chance.
SLIDE SHOW: The top 10 near-Earth objects (NEOs) as selected by the Discovery News team.
Despite these shrinking odds, Apophis remains “the” doomsday asteroid in the public mindset — a situation that certainly wasn’t helped by the initial 1-in-233 odds and subsequent media frenzy.
Now we have 1999 RQ36, a bigger “potentially hazardous” asteroid, with a higher one-in-a-thousand chance of striking Earth in 2182.
Doppler imagery of 1999 RQ36 by NASA’s Goldstone Radar.

“The total impact probability of asteroid ‘(101955) 1999 RQ36’ can be estimated in 0.00092 — approximately one-in-a-thousand chance — but what is most surprising is that over half of this chance (0.00054) corresponds to 2182,” explains María Eugenia Sansaturio, of Spain’s Universidad de Valladolid (UVA) and co-author of the international NEO study.
Recently published in the journal Icarus, this impact probability was calculated using two mathematical models to assess potential threats to Earth in the 22nd Century. 1999 RQ36 was singled out at the biggest threat.
ANALYSIS: Will An Asteroid Hit Earth?
Of course, a lot can happen to an errant space rock in 172 years, hence the odds of one-in-a-thousand. Although gravitational influences on the asteroid’s trajectory can be fairly accurately calculated, other mechanisms acting on the rock are not so easily modeled.*
The message to come out of this study is that potentially hazardous asteroids are out there and we are getting better at identifying which known asteroids pose the greater risk. But at what point do we decide to take action? 172 years into the future is a long time, and humans aren’t exactly well-known for preparing for future events over those kinds of time scales. But time is one thing we’ll need if we are to protect future generations from a potentially catastrophic impact event.
“If this object had been discovered after 2080, the deflection would require a technology
that is not currently available,” said Sansaturio. “Therefore, this example suggests that impact monitoring, which up to date does not cover more than 80 or 100 years, may need to encompass more than one century.”
“Thus, the efforts to deviate this type of objects could be conducted with moderate resources, from a technological and financial point of view.”

*For example, the “Yarkovsky effect” can modify an asteroid’s orbit over long periods of time. As one side of a rotating body (i.e. an asteroid) is heated by the sun’s radiation, the surface rotating away from the sun will be warmer than the surface rotating into sunlight. The hemisphere of the asteroid facing away from the sun will radiate the stored solar heat into space, so infrared photons will be emitted. Although very tiny, each photon carries a small amount of momentum away from the asteroid, giving it a tiny kick. In this case, the orbit of the rotating asteroid will very slowly spiral in toward the sun. Over 172 years, this effect could be significant.
Image: Comparative sizes of asteroids and comets visited by spacecraft. Compiled by Emily Lakdawalla (Planetary Society) & Ted Stryk. Credits: ESA, NASA, JAXA, RAS, JHUAPL, UMD, OSIRIS.

Should Environmental Protection Extend to the Planets?

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Analysis by Ray Villard Mon Jul 26, 2010 03:12 AM ET 9 Comments | Leave a Comment

Human on mars
Is the solar system a frontier to conquer or a wilderness to preserve?
This question really hit the fan last October. NASA crashed an empty rock booster into the moon to see if water-ice crystals were at the south pole. Water on the moon would make establishing human bases more feasible.
What really hit the fan was the public outcry that the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) experiment was despoiling the pristine lunar environment. Never mind that the moon gets hammered with space junk all the time. This was a direct attack from Earth.

One indignant English teacher e-mailed me with a simple one-liner: “Stop ******* with the moon!” In a subsequent e-mail he went on to explain, “I found the standard, mundane argument [for LCROSS] in favor of arrogant disrespect of the universe, … Such logic has brought our world to the brink of nuclear and environmental holocaust. Who gave you or anyone else the privilege to intentionally inflict damage upon anything?”
This episode addresses a looming challenge our civilization faces when boldly going out to other worlds. Do we have an ethical duty to respect and preserve the natural environments of neighboring planets and their moons?
Some scientists have proposed that we should establish “conservation parks” on worlds like Mars where geologically awesome regions (like the giant volcano Olympus Mons) would be treated with the sanctity of earthly wonders like the Grand Canyon.
Olympus_mons_3dSM Others have said that all of Mars should be protected as a wildlife preserve where we do everything possible to avoid contamination; on the assumption Martian microbes could exist. NASA does have a planetary protection program where spacecraft are sterilized and sometimes destroyed at end-of-mission. Interplanetary quarantine will be much more difficult to enforce once humans reach Mars.
But the louder proponents on the flip-side of the debate largely overshadow this “astroenvironmentalism” movement. Large-scale human exploration and space settlement has been at the core of NASA space policy since former President George W. Bush created the “Vision for Exploration” in 2004.
Jupiterrocket1 The Obama administration has sidestepped the moon but still has Mars on the radar. And, the recent Congressional push for quickly developing a new generation of large space boosters — built at aerospace companies in several key states — would bolster extending the “human presence” into space.
This script is straight out of America’s pioneering roots: the conquest of the frontier. Just like in the old Wild West days, the solar system has practically limitless energy and mineral resources. And, off-world colonization might help absorb an exploding human population.
Caught in the middle of this debate is our simple quest for fundamental knowledge. For example, we can’t find out if life is on Mars without going there. It could conceivably require nothing less than the resources of a full-blown human expedition.
Concern about how we deal with the final frontier goes all the way back to pre-Sputnik days. In 1952 the International Astronomical Federation considered space law: what are the property rights in space, legal liabilities, and responsibilities? In 1967 the United Nations Outer Space Treaty insisted that nations couldn’t claim territories on moons and planets (planting a U.S. flag on the moon was strictly ceremonial). The so-called U.N.; “Moon Treaty” in 1979 (not ratified by the U.S.) asserted that space resources are to be shared with all mankind.
This will become a more practical problem in the coming decades. China, Indian, Russia, Japan and Europe are all becoming space-faring nations. Will eventual privatization of space tourism, colonization, mining and other resources exploitation become common on planets and asteroids by the end of this century?
ESA Moonbase
Given the current Gulf of Mexico oil-spill disaster it’s easy to become cynical and imagine the fragile terrestrial worlds of the solar systems being ravaged for greed and profit. I think this dilemma certainly resonated with viewers of the sci-fi blockbuster “Avatar.”
Alternatively, Earth is the only passenger car in a freight train of coal cars, as rocket engineer Kraft Ericke once put it. By moving industrialization, resource extraction, energy generation and overpopulation off Earth we better preserve the quality of life on our own little planet.
What worries me the most is the ethics of respect for life on other worlds — no matter how primitive. Assuming Mars could very well have a complex underground biosphere of organisms that have evolved to survive over several billion years, won’t we destroy that ecosystem with a permanent colony of humans? Then again, why would we be expected to treat alien microbes any differently that we treated the Native Americans in our conquest of the West?
Public communications researcher Linda Billings of the George Washington University in Washington D.C. maintains that the space community has not seriously considered questions of ethics, culture, and space law.
For example, in 2005, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said that space-faring people should take Western values with them into space. “Western civilization is the best we’ve see so far in human history,” he asserted. These comments echo the idea that space exploration is our Manifest Destiny. Becoming an “extra-terrestrial” civilization is an inevitable evolutionary watershed of technological societies. It also ensures survival of our species. And, our way of life too?
Billings says that historically, the space community has preferred a one way “expert to non-expert,” way to communicate to the public. What’s really needed now is a broader public dialogue on “whether, where, how and perhaps more importantly why we should be going into space.”
Image credit: NASA

The Search for Dark Energy has a New Weapon

The nature of dark energy is one of the outstanding problems in cosmology today. Something is causing the universe’s expansion to accelerate, but what? Numerous techniques are being developed to attack this problem, and astronomers have demonstrated such a technique with the largest fully-steerable radio telescope.
SLIDE SHOW: Visualizing the inner workings of a Type Ia supernova — the “standard candle” astronomers use to measure the effects of dark energy.

Theories predict that acoustic, or sound waves, from the very early universe should have left their mark in a detectable way. (What if you could hear these sounds?) By measuring the large-scale structures left behind by the sound waves, astronomers may be able to make precise measurements of some of the parameters of dark energy, thus getting one step closer to determining its nature.
Astronomers Tzu-Ching Chang, Jeffrey Peterson, Ue-Li Pen, and Kevin Bandura used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to map large, faint structures of hydrogen gas. Hydrogen is the most common element in the galaxy, and hydrogen atoms give off a characteristic “color” of radio light. As they map the hydrogen in the universe on the largest scales, astronomers can search for the structures created by the universe’s characteristic sound waves.
However, mapping the most abundant element in the universe in this way isn’t the easiest task. The team developed new techniques of mapping the faint hydrogen, as well as methods for removing stray radio interferences from man-made sources and from astronomical sources in the foreground. The work paid off as they detected hydrogen ten times further than had been done before.
To unlock the universe’s deepest secrets, astronomers find themselves working harder to find more clever techniques in order to detect fainter and more elusive signals. But isn’t it the challenge that makes it more fun?
Caption: Computer simulation of large scale structure. Credit: Science Magazine

The importance of a believable background


Having been distracted by a series of twelve adventures about a small honey bear cub Ursus and his friends Ig the earwig and Prickle the hedgehog for the best part of two weeks for small children to enjoy, I’m now able to return to my major priority for the rest of 2010, my next novel.

Without giving anything away, the story is based on ‘Time’ and whether it can or cannot be controlled. We’re not talking about adjusting your watch or adding an hour to create summertime here –we’re talking about cosmic time.

My main character has a driving agenda to find a ‘key’ deposited somewhere across the planet millennia ago; something of which he is blissfully unaware at the beginning of his journey of discovery.

Where it is located, what it is for – even if it exists he doesn’t know as he is lead from one vague clue to another by ancient writings, myths and legends; watched over by a being who is content to watch from the shadows, neither hindering nor helping his search for the key to time itself because of a protocol put in place by her ancestors twenty-five thousand years earlier.

 In creating a story like this, the background, both physical and academic, has to have some degree of believability about it. So as he journeys across the world, you as the reader have to feel that wherever he may be, he inhabits a real place on the planet.

What I’m trying to create by briefly describing each location, is to paint a picture in your mind of his surroundings as they would appear to you if you go there.

At the moment how would I describe this new tale? An archaeological detective story perhaps, with overtones of myth and ancient lore?  Maybe even a blend of archaeology with a touch of science fiction thrown in for good measure.

Either way as I begin my hero’s journey through the quagmire of both information and disinformation that he has to wade through, not to mention being distracted from his path by a few detractors along the way; by the time I have finally outlined the guts of the story, at least the physical background will be believable. The rest I’ll leave up to you the reader…


Jack Eason – author of Onet's Tale

Dinos Dug Around for Prey

Fossilized mammal burrows reveal that some 

dinosaurs dug into dens in search of furry morsels.

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By Larry O’Hanlon Fri Jul 23, 2010 07:00 AM ET 0 Comments | Leave a Comment

  • Fossilized mammal burrows with claw marks from digging dinos have been discovered.
  • The likely digger was a velociraptor or troodont.
  • Other evidence of dinos eating mammals include teeth marks on bones as well as bones in fossil feces.

No actual mammal bones or teeth have been found, though the burrows match the complexity of those of other mouse or shrew-like mammals of that time and their present-day counterparts. Click to enlarge this image.
Getty Images

Rare evidence has been found of dinosaurs preying on mammals. Fossilized mammal burrows that appear to have been clawed out by a predator suggests that some theropod dinosaurs dug into mammal dens to get furry morsels.
Since there were no large mammal predators 80 million years ago, the most likely candidates are dinosaurs. Making the connection even stronger is that claw marks in the burrows are a pretty good match to the claws of dinosaur fossils found in rocks nearby, though slightly later in time.
“It’s pretty tight,” said paleontologist Edward Simpson of Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. “We can’t say whether it’s a troodont or a velociraptor,” because the claw bones of those found nearby have lost their nails, or cuticles. But otherwise the match is a good one, he said.
Simpson and his students have published their “trace fossil” discovery — that is, fossilized evidence of animal behaviors rather than the animals themselves — in the August issue of the journal Geology.
“To me there is almost no doubt,” agreed trace fossil expert Anthony Martin of Emory University. “It’s very good circumstantial evidence.”
No actual mammal bones or teeth have been found, though the burrows match the complexity of those of other mouse- or shrew-like mammals of that time and their present-day counterparts. The criteria for calling something a fossilized mammal burrow were laid out a few years ago in a separate paper by Martin.
With that criteria in mind, the team feels confident that they did find a mammal’s subterranean abode. The researchers could go even further to make their case.
“One of the things we could do is to take the burrows and cut them up,” said Simpson. There might be mammal teeth in them, which make an even stronger case.
However, he’s hesitant to do that since it’s a destructive process. There is also only a very small chance they will find any mammal bones or teeth. So far Simpson and his students haven’t even extracted the fossil burrow from the cliff in southern Utah in which it was found.
As for the dinosaur involved, it probably wasn’t very big, judging by the claw marks in the burrows, said Martin.
Other evidence that has been reported to support the dinosaurs-bites-mammal story include the specialized jaw, teeth and skulls of some dinosaurs; mammal bones with bite marks; fossilized gut content; and feces and trackways.
This case is different in that it points directly at how the dinosaurs hunted rather than just the fact that they ate mammals.
“This is an excellent example of how trace fossils can reveal animal behavior,” said Martin.

Does an author really write a story?


Have you ever stopped to wonder how a story makes it to the page? As a reader looking in from the outside, you get caught up in the story, its characters, their foibles, their thoughts and desires. But does the author really create the story or does he/she go along for the ride like you the reader?

I firmly believe that the author is in reality an exploring reporter. The characters and events unfold before the authors eyes; all he/she does is record them for posterity; nudge them down a particular path to see what will happen.

Every story has a starting point firmly fixed in the author’s mind. But after that, it’s up to the characters to take the author along with them as an observing scribe recording their adventures, disappointments, delights, apprehensions etc, etc.

In life, you have a fixed starting point; in your case the time of your birth. Where you go and what you do during your lifetime is governed by a mix of opportunities fate and chance meetings. The same can be said for that story which is unfolding before your author’s eyes.

In the story, the characters determine through their actions what will happen next. The world they inhabit lays the ground rules for the way they behave. Chance meetings within that world can and do change the way the stories’ characters react to one another and the events portrayed.

So, in my humble opinion, all the author is in reality is the very first person to read the story created by the characters. He/she has gone along for the ride just like you the reader. But unlike you, the author at least had some small part in the story by recording it for you. After all, the characters couldn’t do it; they were too busy living it…


Jack Eason – author of Onet's Tale