Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

 
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

NASA upgrades software for monitoring potentially dangerous asteroids

NASA has installed a major upgrade to the software it uses for monitoring, tracking, and predicting the future orbits of potentially dangerous asteroids.

Sentry [the original software used for the past 20 years] was very effective at calculating orbital paths based on how an asteroid is affected by the gravitational pull of the Sun and planets, but there were a few factors that it couldn’t account for. In the long run, these uncertainties can snowball into many possible orbits that may or may not impact Earth.

The Yarkovsky effect, for instance, is where the Sun unevenly heats the surface of an asteroid as it spins, creating thermal forces between the “day” and “night” sides of the rock that can produce thrust. Other times, asteroids that swing past Earth very closely could be nudged into different orbits by the planet’s gravity, changing the paths of their eventual return.

The first Sentry system couldn’t incorporate either of these two factors, meaning that for special case asteroids like Bennu or Apophis, astronomers would have to manually analyze their orbits, which is a complex and time-consuming process.

But Sentry-II is designed to account for things like these. This latest version uses a different algorithm that models thousands of random points within the uncertainty space of an asteroid’s orbit, then figures out which ones have a chance of striking Earth in future. This, the team says, could help find scenarios that have very low probability of impact.

What this upgrade means is that as new asteroids are discovered the software will be able to very quickly calculate with better accuracy any potential impacts in the coming centuries. The results won’t be perfect, but less manual work will be necessary, meaning fewer dangerous asteroids will fall through the cracks.

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2 comments

  • John hare

    One of the possibilities opened up is using one small asteroid to impact a larger one that’s in a dangerous orbit. Changing a kiloton unit takes far less human supplied energy than that of a megaton unit. Many of the closing velocities of different asteroids are in the 10+ km/sec range.

    The key is first finding the potential impactor. Then finding much smaller units that can be nudged to intercept the potential impactor. 10 m/sec change is several hundred km/day of difference in orbit.

  • Jeff Wright

    Monitoring how close they come to each other is important-a grazing strike demands recalculation.

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