NASA Has a Plan to Defend Earth Against Asteroid Impacts

Artist’s illustration of a large asteroid headed for Earth. Credit: ESA
NASA has a plan to protect the Earth from death by asteroid, and the space agency will unveil it to the world today (June 20). But don’t panic yet, NASA says there’s no known asteroid threat right now.

By Tariq Malik |

In a 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) teleconference today, NASA scientists will roll out a new report on the space agency’s strategy for tracking, and potentially deflecting, near-Earth asteroids that might one day pose a threat to our planet. You can follow the NASA asteroid defense webcast live here, courtesy of NASA Live.

The report, called the “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan,“ lays out what NASA will do over the next 10 years to safeguard the Earth from potentially dangerous near-Earth objects (NEOs). [Potentially Dangerous Asteroids in Images]

„While no known NEOs currently pose significant risks of impact, the report is a key step to addressing a nationwide response to any future risks.“ NASA officials said in a statement.

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Newfound Alien Planet is a Metal-Heavy Cannonball

A Mercury-like planet the size of Earth orbits 100 times closer to its star, K2-229, than Earth does the sun. Credit: L. Calçada/ESO
Scientists have discovered a metal-heavy cannonball of an exoplanet resembling an Earth-size version of Mercury.

By Charles Q. Choi |

This newfound world could help shed light on the mysteries of Mercury’s origins and evolution.

Previous research suggested that Earth, Venus and Mars have metal cores that make up only about one-third of the mass of their planets. In contrast, Mercury is mostly metal, with a metallic core that makes up about two-thirds of the planet’s mass. [Inside Planet Mercury (Infographic)]

It remains hotly debated why Mercury differs so much from its rocky siblings. Now, researchers have discovered an alien version of Mercury that could better explain the history of the solar system’s innermost world.

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The Plan to Build a Gold Mine on a Seismic Fault in Greece

A local shows off a piece of pyritis he pocketed in the 1990s when working in the mines. Image: Nikos Symeonidis
“The problem is that we can never predict when an earthquake can strike.”

By Sarah Souli | MOTHERBOARD

The graffiti is splashed along the highways and side roads, riddled with potholes, that snake through the mountains and seaside villages of eastern Halkidiki, a region of northern Greece.

I FUCK YOUR GOLD, one tag says.

DEATH TO ELDORADO, reads another.

Halkidiki is a peninsula that resembles a stout, three-legged man. The spindly legs, covered in fragrant pine trees, are surrounded by turquoise waters. The first two legs are highly developed areas attracting tourists from around the world, with solid infrastructure, massive hotels, and well-paved roads. “There’s no place like Halkidiki,” as the local saying goes.

That’s taken on another meaning in the third, northeastern-most leg. Despite having the same topography as the other two plus the second most important location in Christian Orthodoxy, the holy Mount Athos monastery, this region of the peninsula has little touristic infrastructure. Visitors dwindle to a few older folks. And the roadside graffiti is an indicator of this being an epicenter of ongoing environmental and economic tensions with Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold, which is in the process of operating three copper-ore and gold mines in the region.

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Jimmy Kimmel Lays Out the Catastrophe Trump’s Paris Agreement Withdrawal in Terms Even the President Should Understand

„If climate change destroys human life on Earth, it could be bad for business.“

By Alexandra Rosenmann | AlterNet

As predicted, President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord on Thursday, fulfilling a major campaign promise and angering much of the world.

“It made sense that he did it from the Rose Garden, while we still have roses and gardens,“ opened late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, hours after Trump’s formal announcement.

Kimmel has long been dissatisfied with the Trump Administration’s disregard for the planet. In January, the late night host called Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head a „piece of sh*t“ for blocking protections of America’s water.

„I really hope that when the ice caps melt, it ruins every rug at Mar-a-lago first,“ Kimmel added on Thursday. „I know that’s harsh, but it’s just how I feel.“

He also pointed out that it’s not just environmentalists who back the Paris Agreement.

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Meet the Photographer Hunting for Extraterrestrial Dust on Paris Rooftops

Jon Larsen has spent the eight years years hunting and photographing extraterrestrial dust in cities around the world—something NASA thought was impossible.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

Every day, the Earth is showered with about 100 tons of cosmic dust, sub-millimeter mineral particles that have been floating around since before our solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago. They enter Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of at least 7 miles per second, and despite their small size, they account for most of the extraterrestrial material on Earth by weight.

Since the astronomer Fred Whipple coined the term ‚micrometeorite‚ in 1950, hundreds of samples of cosmic dust have been collected all over the world. All of these samples are collected at pristine sites far away from human activity, such as by drilling into the polar icecaps or using a magnetic sled to dredge the ocean floor. But last year Matthew Genge, a planetary scientist at Imperial College London, joined forces with Jon Larsen, a professional Norwegian musician moonlighting as an amateur scientist, who has been hunting and photographing micrometeorites for nearly a decade and recently found the first micrometeorite in an urban environment.

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Inside Italy’s Thriving Market for Earthquake Pseudoscience

The town of Arquata del Tronto, partially destroyed by August 24 earthquake. Image: Federico Formica
Legitimate fears of deadly earthquakes are fueling a cottage industry of bogus detectors and predictors.

By Frederico Formica | MOTHERBOARD

Earthquakes are a fact of life in central Italy. On January 18, the area was hit by five shocks, all with magnitudes stronger than 5.0 on the Richter scale in a single day. People who live in the regions of Abruzzo, Marche, Lazio and Emilia Romagna coexist with the threat of earthquakes. Eight times over the last ten years, quakes stronger than 5.5 magnitude shook the faults of the Apennine Mountains.

In a country where most buildings were built centuries ago, without any quake-proofing techniques, these magnitudes are enough to destroy whole towns. The lives of many Italians hang by a thread, as approximately 24 million people live in high seismic hazard areas. Fear of earthquakes is innate in this region.

This fear has made some Italians more inclined to believe in scientifically suspect theories in the hopes that someone, anyone, will predict the next time the earth shakes. Even regular citizens are starting to hunt for ways to predict earthquakes.

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Nobody Is Sure What Caused a Mysterious Radiation Spike Across Europe

Some speculate a Russian nuclear test in the Arctic, but experts say a pharmaceutical facility could be responsible.

By Ben Sullivan | MOTHERBOARD

Nuclear scientists are struggling to determine the source of small amounts of nuclear radiation that bloomed over Europe throughout January.

France’s IRSN institute, the public body for radiological and nuclear risks, announced in a statement on February 13 that Iodine-131, a radionuclide of human origin, was detected in trace amounts at ground-level atmosphere in continental Europe. First detected in the second week of January over northern Norway, Iodine-131 presence was then detected over Finland, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, France, and Spain. However, the levels have since returned to normal and scientists have yet to determine the source of the radiation.

Norway’s Radiation protection Authority (NRPA), which first detected the Iodine-131 over its northern Russian border, told Motherboard over the phone today that the levels present essentially no risk to human health. „I can assure you that the levels are low,“ said a press a spokesperson.

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Twitter Has Made Our Alien Contact Protocols Obsolete

Image: BBC Screengrab bb.
Image: BBC Screengrab bb.
Social media will make an alien encounter much more complicated.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

In 1990, the International Academy of Astronautics published a special issue of their journal , Acta Astronautica, dedicated to the problem of what to do in the event that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) detected an alien signal. These „post-detection protocols“ as outlined in the IAA’s Declaration of Principles in 1989 were inspired by increasingly rapid technological advances in the SETI field that made the likelihood of detecting a signal more likely than at any other point in the search’s 30 year history.

But the one technological development that its collaborators couldn’t have anticipated was the rise of social media, which could seriously complicate the ability of government and private research institutions to control the social consequences resulting from the detection of an extraterrestrial message.

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Earth Has Been Sneezing Biogenic Oxygen on the Moon for Billions of Years

Themenbild: NASA
The Moon may be liberally sprinkled with oxygen created by life on Earth, according to new research published Monday in Nature Astronomy. This opens up the possibility that “the Earth’s atmosphere of billions of years ago may be preserved on the present-day lunar surface,” in the words of the paper’s authors, led by Osaka University planetary scientist Kentaro Terada.

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

The notion that Earth has been periodically sneezing its sky stuff on the Moon, spraying it with the exhalations of now-extinct lifeforms, is not entirely new. Previous teams have suggested that nitrogen and noble gases embedded in the Moon’s soil originated on Earth.

But Terada and his co-authors are the first to present evidence that oxygen, an essential ingredient and byproduct of terrestrial life, is regularly peppered all over the Moon’s surface.

The team used data collected by the Japanese Kaguya spacecraft in 2008 to show that Earth-brand oxygen ions can make this giant leap during a special five day period in the satellite’s orbit, when Earth is located between the Sun and the Moon.

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We’re Getting A Lot Better at Looking for Habitable Planets

Artist's render of the TRAPPIST-1 system. Image: ESO/M.Kornmesser Themenbild
Artist’s render of the TRAPPIST-1 system. Image: ESO/M.Kornmesser Themenbild
Good news! If recent events inspire you to look for a way off this planet, we just got a lot better at hunting for another habitable space rock. As researchers are finally starting to directly observe the stars we know have planetary systems, it’s now possible to accurately gauge if their planets‘ orbits are not too far, but not too close to their stellar parent.

By Bryson Masse | MOTHERBOARD

In a study published in Astrophysical Journal, Stephen Kane, associate professor of astronomy at San Francisco State University, focused on the red dwarf star Wolf 1061, located only 14 light-years from Earth. He and his researchers have been able to accumulate enough information to determine the star’s precise habitable zone—that is, the area around a star that harbours conditions conducive for life. What’s even more exciting is that the study confirms suspicions that the second planet in the system is found on the inside edge of this region.

“We understand planets only as well as we understand the star,” Stephen Kane told Motherboard over the phone. Wolf 1061 is a faint star of the M dwarf family. That means that—despite its proximity to our solar system—it’s still very hard to observe and get exact details about it. Kane and his team have measured the luminosity and temperature of Wolf 1061 and also determined the detailed orbits of the star’s three planets. With this data, they can say for sure that Wolf 1061c, the system’s second planet from the star, is situated where scientists believe liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface if there was enough atmosphere to sustain it.

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These Plankton-Like Robots Are Drifting Through the Ocean to Help Save Sea Life

Image: Jules Jaffe
Image: Jules Jaffe
Twenty years after they first met and 15 years since they began work on the project, oceanographers Jules Jaffe and Peter Franks have finally realized their vision of a robot that can be programmed to act like plankton. Their Miniature Autonomous Underwater Explorer (M-AUE) gets pushed around by the currents, tracks its surroundings, and allows scientists to measure oceanic properties in 3D relatively inexpensively, for the first time. Also, it happens to look like a Minion from the Despicable Me movie series, but that’s more of an accidental side effect.

By Farnia Fekri | MOTHERBOARD

If all goes according to plan, the data gathered by the robots could show how notoriously tricky ocean movements affect aquatic creatures like plankton, or how to limit the spread of algal blooms and oil spills. Their robots are described in the Jan. 24 issue of Nature Communications.

or Jaffe and Franks, both of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the publication is the culmination of almost two decades of work. It all began when Jaffe said to Franks, “You know, I was thinking of building some drifters.”

Lots of people build “drifters,” or ocean-going robots. Franks wanted to know how theirs would be different. “What if we made them so they could change their buoyancy, and they could go up and down like plankton?” Jaffe responded.

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Massive Telescope Will Be Upgraded to Study the Nearest Exoplanets to Earth

One of the biggest space stories of 2016 was the discovery of the Earth-scale planet Proxima b in orbit around Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun.

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

Located only 4.2 light years away, Proxima b is the nearest known exoplanet ever detected. The newly found world was pinpointed by a European Southern Observatory (ESO) team, and sparked a surge of interest about the planet’s finer properties, including its potential to host life.

Now, the Very Large Telescope (VLT), a workhorse optical telescope located in Chile, has committed to the effort to characterize this tantalizing planet-next-door, and spot any other planets that might be orbiting Proxima Centauri.

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The Moon May Have Started as Dozens of ‘Moonlets‘

Concept art of giant impact hypothesis. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Concept art of giant impact hypothesis. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Some 4.5 billion years ago, an object the size of Mars smashed into the embryonic Earth. This devastating collision created a debris field around our young planet that eventually coalesced into the Moon

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

This idea, called the giant impact hypothesis, has accumulated compelling evidence, but there are still missing pieces of the puzzle. For instance, it does not fully account for the near-identical isotopic signatures of Earth and the Moon (meaning they are made of the same material). If a Mars-sized impactor really did wallop our planet during its infancy, it’s odd that it didn’t contribute more of its own debris to the fallout.

A study published on Monday in Nature Geoscience suggests that this incongruity could be explained if the Moon was formed as a result of around 20 smaller impacts, instead of one colossal dust-up between worlds.

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The Top 10 Scientific Discoveries that Renewed Our Faith in Humanity This Year

On each of the three NASA Mars rovers, there’s a tiny inscription written on the sun dial. It details the mission and what us mere Earthlings hoped to achieve by sending our robots to the planet next door. The last line reads: “To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery.“

By Kaleigh Rogers | MOTHERBOARD

I never knew this about the rovers until I heard it from Bill Nye (who helped design the sundials on which the inscription is written) when I heard him speak at SXSW Eco this year. Nye told the audience that it brings him hope to think of an astronaut one day reading that message on Mars. “She or he will walk up to this thing and feel that joy of discovery,” Nye said. “That’s what science is all about: the joy of discovery.”

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Sonnenzwilling ist ein Planetenfresser

HIP 68468 ist ein etwas älterer Zwilling unserer Sonne, doch er hat einen Planeten verschlungen. © Gabi Perez / Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias
HIP 68468 ist ein etwas älterer Zwilling unserer Sonne, doch er hat einen Planeten verschlungen. © Gabi Perez / Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias
Planetarer Todesfall: Astronomen haben einen sonnenähnlichen Stern entdeckt, der mindestens einen seiner Planeten verschlungen haben muss. Darauf deutet unter anderem ein starker Überschuss an Lithium im 300 Lichtjahre entfernten Sonnenzwilling hin. Wahrscheinlich stürzte der Planet in diesen Stern, als er und seine Artgenossen weiter nach innen wanderten – ähnlich wie es Jupiter in unserem Sonnensystem einst tat.


Dass es in Planetensystemen gefährlich zugehen kann, davon zeugt auch unser Sonnensystem: Unsere Erde erlebte eine gewaltige Kollision, aus der der Mond entstand und auch dieser hat enorme Einschläge hinter sich. Astronomen vermuten zudem, dass der Gasriese Jupiter viel weiter außen entstand und erst allmählich nach innen wanderte.


Six New Species Discovered Near Thermal Vents on Ocean Floor

Image:“  White flocculent mats in and around the extremely gassy, high-temperature (>100°C, 212°F) white smokers at Champagne Vent.
In 2011, a team of marine ecologists led by Jon Copley sent a remotely operated submarine nearly two miles underwater to observe a field of hydrothermal vents in the southwest Indian Ocean. Copley and his team collected 21 animal specimens from the vents using the underwater vehicle and after years of taxonomical research were able to determine that six of these species had not yet been formally described.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

As detailed in a paper published this week in Nature, the six new species include a hairy chested Hoff crab, two types of snails, one type of mollusk and two different species of worm.

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Scientists Turned Carbon Dioxide Into Solid Rock In 2 Years

Image: American Chemical Society
Image: American Chemical Society
Scientists have been working together to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale and are looking for solutions to capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2). Now, a team of researchers have successfully turned CO2 into solid rock in just two years, offering a solution for the abundance of carbon in the atmosphere.

By Susmita Baral | MOTHERBOARD

Published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the study spotlights the results of a field project in eastern Washington where researchers injected pressurized liquid CO2 into a basalt formation. Basalt is a fine-grained volcanic rock that formed from lava millions of years ago and has previously been found in lab studies to turn CO2 into carbonate minerals.

Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas—a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change—in the Earth’s atmosphere. While CO2 naturally exists in the air, human activity has massively elevated its concentration. Currently, atmospheric CO2 is at the highest it has been in the past 400,000 years at about 0.04%, or 400 parts per million by volume (ppm).

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Why ESA Scientists Really Want to Crash a Satellite into an Asteroid

On December 1 and 2, the ministers from the European Space Agency’s 22 member states will convene in Lucerne, Switzerland to discuss future ESA missions and how to fund them. This meeting will determine the scope of Europe’s activities in space for the coming years, but due to current political and economic difficulties affecting many of the ESA’s member states, the meeting is expected to be particularly “challenging.”

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

One of the biggest topics on the table at the conference is the ESA’s involvement in the Asteroid Impact and Deflection mission (AIDA), a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency which will involve the launch of two spacecraft to an asteroid in 2020. However ESA’s ability to fund their part of this mission will require the member states to pledge roughly €250 million in funding (which is actually pretty modest, as far as space missions go) at the conference—which in light of the economic situation in Europe is far from certain.

“Nothing is for sure until the [mission approval] is signed,” Patrick Michel, a planetary scientist and senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, told Motherboard. “Even if I’m optimistic and see the high potential of this mission, I know that some countries would be happy to make this mission, but can’t afford it. Their budgets are very, very tight so we need to push until the end and keep up the pressure.”

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Watching Humans Take Over the Earth in 200,000 Years Is Pretty Relaxing

On Friday, the American Museum of Natural History released the above video, which maps the growth and migration of the human population from our origin as a species up to the present day.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

Modern humans emerged around the horn of Africa around 200,000 years ago. The earliest example of Homo sapiens is Omo-1, a hunter whose 195,000 year old remains were found in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley in 1967. Modern humans began migrating out of Africa about 100,000 years ago, using land bridges to spread across the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

It took Homo sapiens  200,000 years to reach the first billion people, but for the majority of this time the human population was pretty small—likely less than one million people. There were a few near extinction events, such as the massive volcanic eruption in Sumatra about 70,000 years ago which may have left as few as 2000 humans alive.

With the advent of agriculture roughly 12,000 years ago, the human population began to balloon from an estimated five million in 8,000 BC to roughly 170 million people by AD 1. Over the next 2,000 years, things start to get pretty wild. The 1 billionth Homo sapiens  was estimated to have been born around 1804 and person number 2,000,000,000 wouldn’t be born until 1927. That means within the last 90 years, we’ve managed to add an additional 5 billion people to the globe.

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NASA and FEMA Practiced Emergency Operations for an Asteroid Impact

The year is 2020 and Los Angeles is about to be wiped off the face of the planet. You’ve known this day was coming since the fall of 2016, when the asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth was first discovered.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

At the time, the global consortium of scientists who’ve tasked themselves with saving Earth from giant asteroids estimated that there was a 2 percent chance that the 800 foot-wide space rock would collide with Earth in late September of 2020. Nobody was particularly worried about it—Earth has had much closer brushes with annihilation before.

Yet as astronomers continued to track the asteroid after it was initially discovered, the probability of impact climbed to 65 percent by January of 2017. After a four month hiatus on observation while the asteroid was obscured by the sun, the astronomers resumed tracking the asteroid in May 2017 only to find that the probability of impact had jumped to 100 percent. It was now a question of where the asteroid would hit, not when or if it would hit. By November 2017, astronomers were able to conclude with some certainty that the asteroid’s trajectory would place the impact site near the coast of southern California.

This was the scenario laid out during a joint NASA-FEMA emergency planning meeting in late October. For now it remains a hypothetical, but one day it will be a reality.

“It’s not a matter of if—but when—we will deal with such a situation,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “But unlike any other time in our history, we now have the ability to respond to an impact threat through continued observations, predictions, response planning and mitigation.”

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