Astronomy for Everyone: Asteroids!

I talked about Asteroids! during a filming of Astronomy for Everyone last night. Astronomy for Everyone is a TV series produced by members of the Ford Amateur Astronomy Club, airing monthly in a couple communities in southeastern Michigan, and also on YouTube. The program is targeted towards beginner and intermediate audiences, as well as all amateur astronomers and sky observers. My program was the first of the show’s 7th year, and the first to be filmed in HD; it airs in early June – I’ll put up a link to it when it is posted.

We started out discussing what Asteroids were, where they were, and how they were discovered.

Asteroid Belt and NEOs. Image Credit: Scott Manley

Asteroid Belt and NEOs. Image Credit: Scott Manley

We talked about the relationship of meteorites to Asteroids, and some interesting discoveries from the study of meteorites, such as: determining the age of the Earth, organic molecules, and even amino acids.

I discussed the Chelyabinsk Impact Event from 2013, and damage and injuries it caused.

Workers repair a power line near the wall of a local zinc plant which was damaged by a shockwave from a meteor in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, on February 15, 2013. A meteor strike in central Russia that left today hundreds of people injured is the biggest known human toll from a space rock, a British expert said. AFP PHOTO / 74.RU/ OLEG KARGOPOLOV --BEST QUALITY FROM SOURCE--OLEG KARGOPOLOV/AFP/Getty Images

Workers repair a power line near the wall of a local zinc plant which was damaged by a shockwave from a meteor in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, on February 15, 2013. A meteor strike in central Russia that left today hundreds of people injured is the biggest known human toll from a space rock, a British expert said. AFP PHOTO / 74.RU/ Oleg Kargopolov/Getty Images

We then talked about the frequency of Asteroid strikes, and how to defend against them. I discussed the pitfalls of  using nukes or impactors against a low-density or porous asteroids (or comets), and covered some other deflection methods – such as the Planetary Society’s Laser Bees project, and the Gravity Tractor concept.

I mentioned that you have to find Asteroids before you can deflect them, and that as of this time, no government on the planet has assigned the task of Planetary Defense to any of its agencies. Because of this, private individuals and foundations are having to take up the mantle; I described the B612 Foundation’s privately-funded, asteroid-hunting Sentinel Mission:

The Sentinel Space Telescope in orbit around the sun. Image courtesy of Ball Aerospace.

I mentioned the formation of IWAN, the International Asteroid Warning Network, and went over the #AsteroidDay declaration, its impressive list of signatories, and the numerous global awareness events happening on June 30th:

All of this in 20 minutes, with a short break in the middle. It was quite the experience, and I hope to be back in the future!

Interview by the B612 Foundation

Bob outside with two telescopes

Bob with scopes. Credit: Scott Kennedy – Penguicon, May 3 2014

If you have spent ANY time in proximity to me in recent years, I’ve probably brought up the subject of Asteroids; of all my Astronomy and Space Science lecture topics, it’s my favorite. Over the last couple years, I’ve gotten to know several people who are in the “Asteroid biz:” planetary astronomers, entrepreneurs who want to mine them, and concerned citizens who are tired of world government inaction, and intend on finding Potentially Hazardous Asteroids themselves.

The B612 Foundation has released an interview with me about the Sentinel Mission – the first privately-funded infrared asteroid-hunting space telescope – words cannot express how honored I am.

Read more about the B612 Foundation and the Sentinel mission here:

Chelyabinsk Poem

The Chelyabinsk Asteroid Contrail. Image credit: unknown.

The Chelyabinsk Asteroid Contrail. Image credit: unknown.

On a clear winter morning,
while walking to work,
Something flashed in the sky,
And made my head jerk.

Then there appeared across the sky,
A ball of fire that hurt the eye.
It left a roiling cloud of smoke,
The frightened people barely spoke.

Minutes later came a sound so loud,
That windows shattered, and fell to the ground.
People ran screaming, and rooftops fell in,
All the car alarms sounded, creating quite a din.

Emergency crews were put through their paces,
As glass shards were pulled from hundreds of faces.
We can prevent this from happening again,
We muster the will; we can make a plan.

There are so many Asteroids yet to be found,
Earth needs your help; WE need it now.

Support #AsteroidDay

– Bob Trembley, 11 Dec. 2014

True color image of comet 67P taken by the Rosetta spacecraft

Color-corrected and sharpened image by Reditter IG-64

Color-corrected and sharpened image of comet 67P by Reditter IG-64. Original image credit: ESA/Rosetta/OSIRIS.

Most images taken of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko have been in greyscale. This is the first true color image of the comet, taken with Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera.

Source: The first true color image of comet 67P taken by the Rosetta spacecraft.

Rosetta images of comet 67P on Flicker:

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? An Excerpt From Brother Guy Consolmagno’s Latest Book

Cover of Brother Guy's Latest Book

Cover of Brother Guy’s Latest Book

Brother Guy Consolmagno and Father Paul Mueller have written a new book: “Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers’ In-box at the Vatican Observatory

Br. Guy provided me with the following from the book’s introduction:

Guy: Would you baptize an extraterrestrial?

That is one of the questions people ask us all the time here at the Vatican Observatory . . . along with questions about the Star of Bethlehem, the beginning and end of the universe, Galileo, Pluto, black holes, killer asteroids, and all the other topics astronomers always get asked about.

What is it about questions of this sort that raises such interest—and sometimes suspicion and fear—among so many people? Let’s face it, most people know we’re not likely to be running into any ETs anytime soon; nor is the exact nature of the Star of Bethlehem essential to any catechism or creed. But people care. They keep asking us. Why?

This book is about what’s behind those questions.

Father Paul Mueller, S.J.

Father Paul Mueller, S.J.

Paul: And this book is about what it’s like when science encounters faith on friendly, mutually respectful terms.

Do you think we should reject any results of modern science that seem to disagree with the Bible? Do you think that the Bible has greater authority than science, and that biblical faith should always get the last word over science? If so, this might not be the book for you. (But read on!)

Do you think we should reject anything in the Bible that seems to be at odds with modern science? Do you think that science has greater authority than the Bible, and that science should always get the last word over biblical faith? If so, this might not be the book for you. (But read on!)

Do you think that both science and faith should be taken seriously, but you struggle with how to hold science and faith together, with integrity? Do you find yourself tending to keep science and faith isolated from each other, in separate, watertight compartments, but you wish that science and faith didn’t have to “take turns” in your life? Then this book is for you. Read on!

Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J.

Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J.

Guy: The two of us writing this book are members of the research staff at the Vatican Observatory, the official astronomical research institute of the Catholic Church.

Paul: Our primary work is research. But since all of us at the Vatican Observatory are Jesuit priests or brothers, we are also in frequent contact with members of the general public—people who have questions and comments about science and faith, people who want to tell us about some discovery they’ve made or about some theory they’ve devised. And also people who just want to talk. We get a lot of e-mail!

Guy: I have more than seven hundred such e-mails in my files from the last five years. Some of the messages are a bit off-the-wall. But all of them come from people who want to take science and faith seriously, and many of our correspondents are people having trouble figuring out how to hold the two together with integrity and consistency.

This book is structured around a half dozen particular questions we’ve been asked time and again—questions that are interesting in themselves but that also tend to presuppose a conflict of some sort between science and religion.

We start with the question of Genesis versus the Big Bang, and we discuss how science and religion can have different but complementary ways of looking at the same issue. Then we discuss how scientific theories and ideas change and evolve over time—for example, we describe what happened recently when astronomers debated the status of Pluto as a planet. And we ask how religion can or should respond when science evolves and changes. To see how that might work—and what happened when it didn’t work well—we examine the case of Galileo’s encounter with the Church.

People of faith generally believe that God is somehow active in the world. We talk about how that can that be, in a universe that seems to be regulated and governed by inexorable scientific laws. People of faith often believe that we are somehow important in God’s eyes. We discuss how can that be, in a universe that is vast and ancient beyond human imagining . . . and that seems doomed to come to an inglorious end, eventually.

And, yes, as the title of the book promises, we also talk about whether we would baptize an alien: what could the message of Christ mean in a universe of countless planets and, for all we know, countless other races of intelligent beings?

Paul: So how do science and religion actually relate to each other? Do they have to operate in separate, watertight compartments? Is one of them supposed to complement and serve the other? Or is it possible to look at their similarities, differences, and connections not in terms of some preconceived notion of what should be the case, but by seeing how science and faith actually do—or don’t—work together? The conversation we have in this book reflects how science and faith can talk to each other.

Bob: I started collecting meteorites over three decades ago. Brother Guy got me interested in the Science of Meteorites after attending one of his lectures at a Science Fiction Convention. In 2011, my wife asked me to give a lecture about meteorites in her classroom; I had to do a LOT of research.

This led to me writing my Asteroids lecture in 2013. Brother Guy and Rik Hill got an annoying number of emails from me when I was doing that research.

Brother Guy spent a wonderful evening at our home on 15 Nov. 2014. We grilled burgers and brats, and had Vernor’s ginger ale, Vlasic pickles, and apple crisp. We chatted with him for hours about all manner of things – his new book, the Vatican Observatory, our kids. We also found out that until age six, he lived in the same neighborhood as my wife, Connie!

Related Links:

Video: ‘Would you baptize an Extraterrestrial?’ A public lecture by Brother Guy Consolmagno