30 March 2013, 03:05

NASA reveals plan to catch an asteroid

04.02.2013 астероид Земля астероид с 15-этажный дом 15 февраля

NASA's budget request for the 2014 fiscal year may include plans for an ambitious mission to send a robotic probe into deep space, capture an asteroid and haul it back within the reach of astronaut explorers, according to a press report.

The space agency is apparently including a request for $100 million in its 2014 budget request to help fund the audacious asteroid capture mission, an Aviation Week report said. 

The asteroid-retrieval mission was first proposed last year by the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. That study, released last April, revolved around an Asteroid Capture and Return mission that would snag a 25-foot-wide (7 meters) space rock and place it in high lunar orbit by 2025 — the deadline set by the Obama administration for NASA's human mission to an asteroid.

NASA officials said Friday that they cannot comment on details of the agency's 2014 budget request until the Obama administration unveils the complete federal budget request on April 10.

Scientists who participated in the Keck study spoke before a National Research Council human spaceflight technical feasibility panel on March 28, describing the target as asteroid as essential "dried mudball" rather than a threatening space rock, Morring wrote.

The Keck study released last year cited a near-Earth asteroid capture mission as a potential gateway to manned Mars exploration.

April to bring meteor showers

Every year in late April, those of us who watch the night sky are treated to the Lyrid meteor shower.

A meteor is a fast-moving streak of light that will last for only a second or two as it crosses the sky. A meteor shower occurs when the number of meteors we see increases for a period of a few nights. The period of the Lyrid shower is approximately April 16 to 26, with the peak around April 22. It’s not a strong shower, so you can expect to see 10 to 20 meteors per hour. However, the shower could surprise you with outbursts of 100 or more meteors per hour.

Most meteors are caused by particles the size of peas that enter the Earth’s atmosphere moving at thousands of miles per hour. The streak of light we see is not the particle itself, but the reaction of the gases of the atmosphere to the high temperatures created by the friction of the high-speed particle and the atmosphere. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere at altitudes of 60 to 80 miles.

The particles, called meteoroids when they are in space, have many sources. They can be asteroids or pieces of asteroids in random orbits around the sun. Even debris blown off of the moon or planets from impacts with other meteors can create meteoroids.

The meteoroid that created the fireball over Russia on Feb. 15 was most likely an asteroid. But the meteors that come from these sources are random and do not create the recurring annual meteor showers.

The source of annual meteor showers is debris from comets. In the 19th century it was discovered that comets shed particles every time they pass close to the sun. These released particles continue to move around the sun in the same orbit as the comet. Because of gravitational interactions with other objects in the solar system, they spread out through the entire orbit of the comet.

Because of the moonlight, it will be even more necessary to view this shower from a dark site away from town. The greatest number of Lyrid meteors often falls in the dark hours before dawn; this year the best time is predicted to be in the few hours between moonset and dawn on the morning of April 22.

The unpredictability of the rate of the Lyrids makes this a shower to watch. If you are out at night between April 16 and 26, take a little time to look for the Lyrids. Who knows? This might be the year of another outburst.

Voice of Russia, NBC News, Space.com, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin 

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