|arya||Date: Wednesday, 09-November-2011, 10:13 AM | Message # 1|
|In a bold attempt to revive its long-dormant planetary exploration program, Russia is scheduled to launch a new, technologically sophisticated spacecraft this week to gather soil samples from a Martian moon and bring them back to Earth for analysis. Back in the early 1970’s, the Soviet Union, after losing the race to land humans on the Moon, brought back lunar soil samples with robotic devices. It also became the first nation to put robotic devices on Venus and Mars |
Astronomers around the world have readied their telescopes to catch a glimpse of a speeding ball of rock that will hurtle past the Earth on Tuesday night.
Scientists say the asteroid, which is about a quarter of a mile wide, will pass inside the moon's orbit and come within 198,000 miles (319,000km) of Earth at 23.28GMT. This is the closest a tracked object this size has come to the planet.
Nasa calculates the 400-metre (1,312ft) wide asteroid, known as 2005 YU55, has roughly a one in 10m chance of hitting Earth in the next century. Were it to strike, the collision would unleash the equivalent of several thousand megatonnes of TNT.
Even with clear skies the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, but professional and amateur astronomers will turn their telescopes on the rock to learn about its surface and chemical composition.
Because the asteroid is approaching from the sun's direction, there will be too much glare to observe the rock with optical or infra-red telescopes until the day of closest approach.
"Most of the asteroids we see are so far out that we only get a small amount of information from the light reflected off them," said Kevin Yates, at the Near Earth Objects Information Centre at the National Space Centre in Leicester. "Because this one is coming in so close we'll be able to get more radar observations, which will give us a detailed surface map, and be able to get more of a chemical signature on the minerals it's made up from."
The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico last year revealed the asteroid to be remarkably spherical while its surface is very dark, suggesting it is rich in carbon.
Observatories at Nasa's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, in the Mojave desert of California, and at Green Bank, West Virginia, will join forces with Arecibo to watch the asteroid pass this week. Operators have called on scores of amateur astronomers to help with observations, using 10-12in telescopes with special filters.
A similar flyby will not happen until 2028 when asteroid 2001 WN5 swings past the Earth at a distance of 143,000 miles.
Full article/source - http://www.guardian.co.uk/science....ed=true