U.S. Election Day Asteroid Hysteria

Trust internet jibber-jabber to spark cosmic hysteria. Armageddon click bait drools over any opportunity to create viral asteroid calamity. Today it’s asteroid 2018 VP1, a 2 meter rock with 0.4% chance of entering our atmosphere on November 2nd.

See the source image

First identified on November 3,  2018 at Palomar Observatory in California at a distance of 450,000 Km from Earth,  2018 VP1 was observed for 12.9 days. It hasn’t been seen since. NASA scientists at JPL Horizons used distance, angle and speed to calculate a two year orbit. Pipsqueak 2018 VP1 is expected to return on or about November 3, 2020. A lot can happen in two years after only 12.9 days of observation, enter LOV, the line of variation. LOV dictates orbital swing from direct impact to unremarkable pass-by 3.7 million Km away.  Either way,  2018 VP1 doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Too small to classify as a PHA (potentially hazardous asteroid), so small that atmosphere would fry it long before surface contact.


I’m all for cosmic awareness, delight in media coverage off all things space. That said, few things frost me more than doomsday internet froth promoting cosmic annihilation.

Detected 6 Hours After the Fact

On August 16, 2020 undetected asteroid 2020 QG swept past Earth at a distance of 2,900 Km. Described as “truck size” ( 20 feet, 3-6 meters across ), traveling at 12.4 Km per second, 2020 QG approached from a sunward direction. Reason why astronomers didn’t see it until six hours later. Despite post event assurance there was never any danger, it’s sobering to ponder fragility of our existence. Asteroid 2020 QG now holds the record for closest “known” asteroid to pass without an Earth strike.

Animated image of tiny object passing Earth.

View larger. | This illustration shows asteroid 2020 QG’s trajectory bending during its close approach to Earth. The asteroid is the closest known nonimpacting asteroid ever detected. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

Small Earth, with green line going past it bent around where it comes nearest Earth, and also the moon's orbit shown.

View larger. | The blue ball in the lower left of this image represents Earth. The curved green arrow represents asteroid 2020 QG, whose orbit was changed by its near-Earth encounter on Sunday. The tick marks on the green line represent 30-minute intervals. You can see that this asteroid was really zooming past! Image via Minor Planet Center.

Truck-sized asteroid swept within 2,000 miles on Sunday

Science admits “gaps” in detection of sunward approaching asteroids. Current telescopes can only detect asteroids at night. When identified, orbit is calculated to determine potential for a future collision. Rather clunky if you ask me. NASA is in early stage development of a telescope to detect asteroids and comets coming from the Sun’s direction. If all goes well and funding remains in place, the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission could be operational by 2025.

For now all we can do is hope incoming sunward objects aren’t pesky enough to unleash calamity.

Not Too Late to Ponder Comet NEOWISE

On March 27, 2020 C/2020 F3 was discovered by astronomers at WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), a NASA space telescope launched in 2009. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide-field_Infrared_Survey_Explorer . On March 31, 2020 it gained official comet status, April 1, 2020 saw it dubbed comet NEOWISE. In a nutshell comets are cosmic objects comprised of ice, dust and space gak presenting a observable tail courtesy close orbital proximity to the Sun. (hence, ice melt)  NEOWISE, current darling of space and common observers alike, made closest approach to the Sun on July 3, 2020. The rest is history, history which won’t be repeated until NEOWISE returns in 6,800 years.

Comet NEOWISE is a rare naked eye cosmic spectacle. A remarkably bright experience afforded Northern Hemisphere residents willing to find a dark place, look northwest after sunset toward the Big Dipper to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE.


NEOWISE-F3-July-4-2020-Chris-Schur-S.jpg (1140×712)


See the source image




On August 5, 2011 NASA’s Juno mission left Earth orbit, destination Jupiter. The farthest space probe ever to be powered by solar arrays, Juno arrived in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Every 53 days Juno completes one orbit of Jupiter. Close orbital passes are called perijoves, from the Greek word peri which means near. Images from Juno’s latest close approach, ( perijove 25 completed on February 27, 2020 ) were made public this week by NASA.

Blue ball with white swirls.

Jupiter at mid-northern latitudes as seen by Juno during Perijove 25. The small, round, swirly spots are storms in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ SwRI/ MSSS/ Kevin M. Gill.

And now, a word from Juno at Jupiter

Ponder timelapse from JunoCam –


Pale Blue Dot Revisited

Thirty years ago today, February 14, 1990 – NASA spacecraft Voyager 1 looked back from Saturn to capture the Pale Blue Dot.

An image of bluish space, with streaks of sunlight crossing it, and with a single dot - Earth - within one of the sunbeams.

In this image from Voyager 1 – acquired on February 14, 1990, from a distance slightly past the orbit of Saturn – Planet Earth is visible as a bright speck within the sunbeam, just right of center. Earth appears softly blue. It occupies less than a single pixel in this image and thus is not fully resolved. Image via NASA.

As Voyager 1 approached Saturn, mission control planned to conserve power by shutting down imaging cameras. Astronomer Carl Sagan had an idea – before shutdown look back at planet Earth. Six billion kilometers across the cosmos Voyager 1 immortalized the Pale Blue Dot.

Today, 30th anniversary of the Pale Blue Dot

On this 30th anniversary, every last one of us should take a moment to ponder Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot –

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan

Mushroom Cabins On The Moon

If space agencies want boots on the Moon constructing homes/research facilities is their first hurdle. Traditional building materials create payload challenges, heavy metal and glass take up a lot of room. All that weight puts a strain on fuel requirements. Enter synthetic biology, the study of how we can use life in technology – in this case fungus, as in mushrooms used to grow self repairing, self replicating habitats.

NASA researchers call it myco-architecture. Exploring the potential of Mycelia in fungus – tiny nutrient absorbing underground threads combining with precision and networking to build complex structures we recognize as mushrooms. A statement from NASA –

Ultimately, the project envisions a future where human explorers can bring a compact habitat built out of a lightweight material with dormant fungi that will last on long journeys to places like Mars. Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat – all while being safely contained within the habitat to avoid contaminating the Martian environment.”

Black-gloved hands holding small round dish with branching fibers on it.

A researcher holding a petri dish containing mycelia – the underground threads that make up the main part of a fungus – growing in simulated Martian soil, also known as Martian regolith. Image via NASA/ Ames Research Center/ Lynn Rothschild

A short, gray, bumpy squarish column.

A stool constructed out of mycelia after two weeks of growth. The next step is a baking process that leads to a clean and functional piece of furniture. The myco-architecture project seeks to design not only for habitats, but for the furniture that could be grown inside them as well. Image via 2018 Stanford-Brown-RISD iGEM Team/ NASA.

Could future moon homes be made of fungi?

Next time you brown bag mushrooms in the produce aisle, take a moment to ponder remarkable legions off unseen mycelia that one day might create mushroom cabins on the Moon.

Nazi Propaganda, Ultima Thule and Arrokoth

On January 1, 2019 NASA darling New Horizons made the farthest close approach fly-by of a cosmic object in human history. Tiny 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object far beyond Pluto was dubbed Ultima Thule shortly before the historic encounter. Ancient geographers used the term ultima Thule in reference to distant territory or destination, northernmost region of the habitable world, remotes goals or ideals. Ultima Thule suited the apple of New Horizons eye. Beyond limits of the known world, a fitting moniker until Nazi propaganda compelled Ultima Thule to become Arrokoth.

2014 MU69 – Arrokoth (Sky, in the Powhatan and Algonquian languages)

Long before a Newsweek reporter mentioned Nazi party use of Ultima Thule in reference to a mythical homeland for Aryan people, NASA pondered implication by association, including its legal team in naming 2014 MU69. Ultima Thule was a fine name, but for media buzz over Nazi propaganda I never would have known neo-Nazis and far right extremists claimed it for their cause. Nor would I known a Swedish skinhead band named Ultima Thule attained three top twenty hits in their homeland.

Imperatives to rename Ultima Thule had little to do with common public knowledge of  Nazi propaganda, everything to do with alt-right association and use of Ultima Thule in their cause.

Ultima Thule renamed to avoid Nazi link


Black Hole Visualization

This week NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center released a black hole visualization. Jeremy Schnittman, astrophysicist specializing in computational modeling of black hole accretion flows enlisted computer software to animate black hole glory. From https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/nasa-visualization-shows-a-black-hole-s-warped-world

Viewed from the side, the disk looks brighter on the left than it does on the right. Glowing gas on the left side of the disk moves toward us so fast that the effects of Einstein’s relativity give it a boost in brightness; the opposite happens on the right side, where gas moving away us becomes slightly dimmer. This asymmetry disappears when we see the disk exactly face on because, from that perspective, none of the material is moving along our line of sight.

Closest to the black hole, the gravitational light-bending becomes so excessive that we can see the underside of the disk as a bright ring of light seemingly outlining the black hole. This so-called “photon ring” is composed of multiple rings, which grow progressively fainter and thinner, from light that has circled the black hole two, three, or even more times before escaping to reach our eyes. Because the black hole modeled in this visualization is spherical, the photon ring looks nearly circular and identical from any viewing angle. Inside the photon ring is the black hole’s shadow, an area roughly twice the size of the event horizon — its point of no return.

“Simulations and movies like these really help us visualize what Einstein meant when he said that gravity warps the fabric of space and time,” Jeremy Schnittman, who created the images at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.

Simulated black hole.

Click in to see more angles. | The black hole is seen nearly edgewise in this new visualization from NASA. The turbulent disk of gas around the hole takes on a double-humped appearance. The black hole’s extreme gravity alters the paths of light coming from different parts of the disk, producing the warped image. “What we see depends on our viewing angle,” NASA said. Image via NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Jeremy Schnittman.

NASA creates stunning new black hole visualization