Friday, December 7, 2018

Spacecraft encounter with asteroid Bennu is test run for defending Earth

The asteroid Bennu as seen from the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

On Dec. 3, the NASA spacecraft OSIRIS-REx arrived at its destination of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. During the next year, it will orbit the asteroid to search for the best places to land and scoop up samples before eventually returning them to Earth in 2023.

But there's another reason researchers are interested in the contents of this space rock: They want to learn more about how they might have to, on short notice, divert, deflect or destroy an asteroid that's on a potentially devastating collision course with Earth.

The multi-institution research team has modeled a possible planetary defense mission against Bennu, based on the limited information they had about the small space object, according to Cathy Plesko, a research scientist in applied physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (full story).

Is There Really A Fourth Neutrino Out There In The Universe?

The Sudbury neutrino observatory, from Forbes.

Of all the particles that we know of, the elusive neutrino is by far the most difficult to explain. We know there are three types of neutrino: the electron neutrino (νe), the muon neutrino (νμ), and the tau neutrino (ντ), as well as their antimatter counterparts (νe, νμ, and ντ). We know that they have extremely tiny but non-zero masses: the heaviest they can be means it would take over 4 million of them to add up to an electron, the next-lightest particle. (full story).

Mesmerizing video shows what would happen if an asteroid crashed into Earth's oceans

Science! But not as Billy Bob Thornton described
it in 'Armageddon'. Credit: Mashable.

In films like Armageddon, Hollywood has tried (and failed) to take on the question of what would happen if a comet or asteroid plunged into the oceans on Earth, but what has scientific research actually determined it may look like?

America's National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has posted a new video illustrating what could happen if an asteroid crashed into one of our oceans, and it's fascinating.

Based on data collected by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists Galen R. Gisler and John M. Patchett, referred to as the Deep Water Impact Ensemble Data Set, these simulations show asteroids of various sizes entering the water from different angles. It's the scale and size of the aftermath that's the truly stunning part. (full story).

LANL Releases New Sea-Ice Computer Model
Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Elizabeth Hunke.

Los Alamos National Laboratory with several collaborating groups released an update for an internationally vital sea-ice computer model, called CICE version 6.0, a timely tool that supports more accurate forecasting of ice occurrence and global climate modeling.

“This update improves our ability to understand a type of anchored ice, called land-fast ice, that is attached to the shore or sea bottom and can block shipping lanes and northern ports,” said Elizabeth Hunke, lead developer of the CICE model. (Full story).

NASA InSight Lander 'Hears' Martian Winds

One of InSight's 7-foot wide solar panels.
Credit: NASA/JPL.

NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander, which touched down on Mars just 10 days ago, has provided the first ever "sounds" of Martian winds on the Red Planet.

An even clearer sound from Mars is yet to come. In just a couple years, NASA's Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to land with two microphones on board. The first, provided by JPL, is included specifically to record, for the first time, the sound of a Mars landing. The second is part of the SuperCam and will be able to detect the sound of the instrument's laser as it zaps different materials. This will help identify these materials based on the change in sound frequency. (full story).