Posted: 12 Jan 2010 01:16 PM PST
An asteroid 30 to 50 feet across will pass by the Earth at just more than one-third the distance between the Earth and the Moon on Wednesday. That's the closest near-earth object approach currently known between now and the flyby in 2024 of a similar-sizeobject known as 2007 XB23.
The new asteroid, called 2010 AL30, was discovered by the NASA-funded Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program, and announced Monday by the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
The short amount of time between the spotting of the object and its near intersection with Earth is a good reminder that humans don't know every object that could come hurtling out of space and collide with our planet.
"Visitors frequently ask me if I worry about the NEOs that I measure," wrote Dr. P. Clay Sherrod of the Arkansas Sky Observatories, on a forum thread discussing the asteroid. "My response: 'I don't worry about those that we keep up with….I am more concerned about the ones we never see coming."
It should be noted that an asteroid this small probably would not cause major damage were it to impact Earth's atmosphere, and would probably burn up before it reached the planet's surface.
The new object will remain about three times farther away from Earth than Apophis, which has been the subject of much recent discussion, will in 2029.
Images: Ernesto Guido & Giovanni Sostero
Posted: 12 Jan 2010 12:04 PM PST
A set of rare moon rocks turned up in a cabinet in the Hawaii governor's office last Friday, a small but significant victory for the lunar enthusiasts who'd like to know where Apollo's legacy resides on this planet.
The rocks weren't technically lost, the Honolulu Advertiser reported, in that they remained within the possession of the state government, but the exact location of thesamples was not known until an annual inventory of gifts given to the state was conducted.
The find was good news for Joseph Gutheinz, a Houston moon rock hunter who has dozens of his students at the University of Phoenix working on investigating the whereabouts of moon rocks gifted to countries and states after the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 moon missions.
"This is great news," Gutheinz told the Advertiser. "This makes my day."
That's because finding an AWOL moon rock is nearly as rare as the moon rocks themselves. Back when the rocks were gifted, they became the property of the gift recipients. As time passed, administrations changed, rocks were lost or stolen or locked in dark basements.
And so many of these rare — but not quite as rare as you might think — moon rocks are now lingering in the purgatory between lost and found. Space historians, archivists and collectors have valiantly attempted to build spreadsheets of the rocks and track them all down, but they remain disturbingly sparse.
Of the 193 rocks distributed after Apollo 11, Robert Pearlman's CollectSPACE website has only ascertained the locations of 42. The Apollo 17 moon rock situation is not much better with space lovers having pinned down the whereabouts of 61 of the precious rocks.
The moon rock situation finds NASA in the awkward position of losing control of its own legacy. Though the rocks and their presentation are a fascinating moment in the agency's history, the legions of bureaucrats and politicians who received them do not appear to have quite the same level of interest in space-age history.
One reason to track them down is that they appear to be remarkably valuable. The Hawaii rocks, Gutheinz estimated, could be worth $10 million. Pearlman, though, who specializes in collecting space memorabilia, noted "there are very few examples by which to judge the market."
In any case, we're sure the bits of moon aren't the only pieces of scientific history that have gone missing over the last couple hundred years. We'd love to get a good thread going with other examples of missing memorabilia, evidence, or instruments.
Photo of Moon rock at the Smithsonian (it's still there): NASA
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