Astronomers have captured the moment a lump of rock slammed into the moon with so much force that the bright flash could be seen from Earth with the naked eye. The 400kg meteorite, travelling at 61,000 kph (40,000 mph), punched a fresh crater into the moon's surface some 40 metres wide in what is thought to be the largest lunar impact ever recorded.
The rock, which was around a metre in diameter, ploughed into an ancient lava-filled basin called the Mare Nubium, producing a flash almost as intense as the Pole Star that took more than eight seconds to fade.
The impact energy was equivalent to 15 tonnes of TNT – at least three times as great as that from the previous record-holding lunar impact, observed by Nasa in March last year.
Naming landmarks on Mars isn't just for scientists and rover drivers anymore.
Starting today (Feb. 26), anybody with an Internet connection and a few dollars to spare can give a moniker to one of the Red Planet's 500,000 or so unnamed craters, as part of a mapping project run by the space-funding company Uwingu.
"This is the first people's map of Mars, where anybody can play," said Uwingu CEO Alan Stern, a former NASA science chief who also heads the space agency's New Horizons mission to Pluto. "It's a very social thing."
Putting your stamp on Mars isn't free. Naming the smallest craters will set you back $5, with prices going up as crater size increases. Uwingu will use the money raised by the project — which could be more than $10 million, if people name every available Martian crater — to fund grants in space exploration, research and education, which is the company's stated chief purpose.
An Apollo class asteroid is expected to whizz between the Earth and the moon on March 5. The 98-foot-wide space rock is expected to come within 218,000 miles of earth (0.9 lunar distances), creating quite the site for stargazers.
The asteroid, named 2014 DX110, is expected to make its closest approach at 21:07 GMT on Wednesday at a blistering speed of 14.85 km/s (32,076 mph). Although the space rock poses no threat to earth, it highlights the earth’s susceptibility to near-Earth asteroids.
For amateur astronomers interested in watching the flyby as it happens, the virtual telescope project will offer live coverage via Slooh, which allows viewers to peer through a telescope via the web.
DX110 belongs to the Apollo class of asteroids, a group of Earth-crossing asteroids, which pose a potential threat to humankind. The February-15, 2013, 65-foot-wide meteor, which exploded over the town of Chelyabinsk in the southern Urals region of Russia, belonged to the Apollo class. The meteor explosion was 30 times stronger than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. As windowpanes shattered throughout the city, 1,500 people were injured, but luckily no one was killed.
Não é preciso ser astrónomo ou físico, basta ser um cidadão cientista que consiga desenvolver algoritmos (sequências de cálculos matemáticos) adequados para identificar asteróides a partir das imagens captadas por telescópios terrestres, e a NASA garante o acesso a prémios de 25 mil euros durante os próximos seis meses.
O primeiro concurso arranca a 17 de março e os interessados têm de criar uma conta no site http://bit.ly/AsteroidHusters e seguir as instruções para competir. A série completa de concursos termina no final de agosto.
O concurso chama-se Asteroid Data Hunter e o seu objetivo é "ajudar a proteger a Terra da ameaça do impacto de asteróides", afirma Jason Crusan, diretor do Tournament Lab da NASA, responsável pela organização desta competição.
Aumentar a capacidade de deteção
O algoritmo vencedor deve aumentar a capacidade de deteção já existente, minimizar o número de falsos resultados positivos, ignorar as imperfeições nos dados analisados, e correr efetivamente em todos os sistemas computacionais.
"Ao abrirmos a busca de asteróides a toda a gente, estamos a aproveitar o potencial inovador e realizador dos cidadãos cientistas em todo o mundo para nos ajudar a resolver o desafio global de detetar asteróides próximos da Terra e de mitigar esta ameaça", salienta Jenn Gustetic, responsável da NASA também ligado a estes concursos.
Com efeito, as iniciativas científicas atuais detetam apenas 1% dos asteróides que orbitam o Sol. Alguns destes asteróides poderão ter no futuro próximo rotas de colisão com a Terra ou passarem muito próximo dela.