Did the Cosmos Deliver a Googly? ‘Meteorite’ Lands on Cricket Pitch

While enjoying a cricket county match, two spectators were apparently treated to one of the rarest of cosmic events: a meteorite falling from the sky, landing right in front of them. The “dark” rock, measuring 5 inches wide, broke in two on impact. Amazingly, a piece hit one of the witnesses.

“One piece bounced up and hit me in the chest and the other ended up against the boundary board,” said Jan Marszel. “It came across at quite a speed – if it had hit me full on it could have been very interesting.”

It’s not clear from the Telegraph‘s minimally skeptical article when this happened (I’m assuming it was during the recent Middlesex vs. Sussex game in Uxbridge, northwest London, using the tidbits of information from the text) and the only expert opinion cited is that of Dr. Matthew Genge, a meteorite expert at Imperial College, who hasn’t handled the evidence yet.

“If this turns out to be a meteorite it’s very exciting and would be the first fall in the UK since 1992,” Genge points out.

(That last statement isn’t very accurate. I’m certain that there have been many meteorites falling onto the UK since 1992. If proven true, this would be the first witnessed fall in the UK since 1992.)

UPDATE (July 27, 10:22 am PT): With thanks to Philip Stobbart, who also commented on the Uxbridge object, some clarification of Genge’s quote has been provided, I stand corrected:

Ian O’Neill does a good job of debunking this, with one minor error. A ‘fall’ to a meteor expert is one of two categories of meteorites, falls and finds, referring to when they were seen – falling, or found later – not to meteorites actually physically falling. The papers made the same error, although they accepted the idea of this being the first fallen meteorite since 1992…

Original post continues:

Thank goodness the eyewitness account didn’t include a description about smoke bellowing from an incendiary-like pebble (i.e. the recent Israel spoof/weapon), but there are some huge question marks hanging over the validity of the Uxbridge object.

The first red flag is that one of the witnesses said: “…out of a blue sky, we saw this small dark object hurtling towards us.” I might be wrong, but spotting a 5-inch wide object flying through the air, at speed, ain’t easy. I would have thought the only time they were alerted of the ‘meteorite’ would have been when it hit the ground. Or when it hit Marszel in the thorax.

Secondly, was the ‘meteorite’ really 5 inches wide? After a quick search, I found a photograph of the offending object:

5 inches? Are you sure? I know us guys are known for overcompensating, but this is ridiculous. Granted, it’s probably just shoddy reporting, but that piece of rock is barely an inch wide.

Also, when a meteoroid blasts through the Earth’s atmosphere, a huge amount of heat is generated around it, creating a ‘fusion crust.’ This crust should be very obvious surrounding recently fallen meteorites. Looking at this picture, no fusion crust is visible. It could be that we are looking at the interior of the broken ‘meteorite,’ and the black fusion crust is on the other side, but there’s no indication in the photo that this is a bona fide space rock.

If I were to place a bet, I’d say that this is not a meteorite. However, it will be interesting to see what the experts think once they are able to study the sample.

Special thanks to Twitter buddy Madge Leebman for the tip!


Space Agency Confirms Indonesia ‘Meteorite’

So, according to The Jakarta Post, last week’s ‘meteorite’ (these skeptical ‘quotes’ are getting ridiculous) that smashed down in East Jakarta, through the roof of a house, was in fact a meteorite. But this time, a scientist from the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (Lapan) has confirmed the original report to be true.

“The heat exposure showed that the object came with high speed and heat,” said Thomas Djamaluddin, an astronomy researcher.

According to another publication, the meteorite “was as big as a coconut.”

However, no meteorite remnants have been recovered from the scene. While it’s possible that the meteorite vaporized on impact, I strongly doubt there would be much of a house left after such an energetic blast.

Djamaluddin does point out that perhaps the meteorite had a “fragile structure,” a potential reason why there’s no fragments left. But that begs the question: If the meteorite was that fragile, could it really slam through the roof, destroy the second floor, explode, excavate a crater in the first floor and cause damage to two neighboring properties?

I’m not totally discounting the idea that this might have been a meteorite impact, but the evidence remains as sketchy as last week. So I’m sticking with my original thought that this “blast” was more likely terrestrial and not extraterrestrial in origin. But on the outside chance this was a meteorite, the neighborhood had a very lucky escape in that the space rock was big enough to cause significant property damage, yet small enough to stay contained.

Sources: The Jakarta Post, Antara News

Indonesia ‘Meteorite’ Wiped Out a House… Or Not.

A week after Israel played host to the amazing burning ‘meteorite’, another report is coming in about a ‘meteorite’ strike in East Jakarta, Indonesia. (Note the use of the famous ‘skeptical quotes’.)

On Thursday, a falling object crashed through the roof of a house causing moderate damage. There was also light damage to two adjoining properties. Fortunately, there are no reported injuries.

According to a report in the Jakarta Globe, there was a “blast” that resulted from the impact and there was a deep crater in the floor of the house. After creating the impact crater in the floor, the ‘falling object’ bounced.

I suspect the object impacted at high velocity, hit the floor, bounced back and hit the ceiling, then fell back down,” said a researcher from the Indonesian National Aeronautics and Space Agency (Lapan). “It’s extremely difficult to recover the fragments, what with the rubble and broken glass, and it being so dark in here.”

The article also states that there was evidence for a residual heat footprint and melted items around the crater. Apparently, these facts all point to evidence that a meteorite, or some man-made space junk, was involved.

Although the details are sketchy, there are a few points that concern me about this meteorite report:

First, if this ‘meteorite’ was large enough to create a “deep” crater (there’s no information about the crater’s approximate size), that would suggest it was a hyper-velocity impact. Not only is this kind of impact very rare, I doubt there would be anything left of the building.

Unless “moderate damage” means “there is no house left,” I strongly doubt the crater was caused by a meteorite.

Secondly, according to the Lapan scientist, the space rock “bounced.” While this is possible — take the Virginia meteorite that crashed through the roof of a doctors office, bouncing off the floor of an examination room, for example — if its impact was energetic enough to excavate a sizable crater (and produce a “blast”), then I doubt much of the meteorite would be left to “bounce.” It would have disintegrated, got lodged deep in the bottom of the crater, or not produced a crater at all.

Thirdly, the article states: “the residual heat footprint and melted items pointed to a meteorite.” As I’ve said before, meteorites are usually cold when they make landfall (assuming they are small enough to be slowed by our atmosphere), so this residual heat did not come from the meteorite. If the meteorite was large enough to slam into the house at hyper-velocity speeds, or hit a gas canister, then perhaps there might be some “residual heat.” But in this case, I strongly doubt there would be any house left.

Fourthly, according to Evan Irawan Akbar, from the Bosscha Observatory in Lembang, this event has occurred shortly after the Lyrid meteor shower which ended on Monday. So he rules out any connection. Which is fortunate, as this meteor shower is caused by the Earth passing through a harmless dust tail created by the periodic Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.

But then he drops this clanger: “It could, however, be part of the Eta Aquariid meteor shower, which peaks on May 7 and 8.”

The Eta Aquariid meteor shower is caused by dust trail from Halley’s Comet… last time I checked, dust grains from comets have never been linked with house-killing chunks of rock. Comets are made from ice and dust, stuff that easily burns up when hitting our atmosphere. These are meteor showers, not meteorite showers.

The extent of the damaged caused is also a little strange. From the article: “It blasted a hole in the second floor of the house, sending furniture falling to the first floor, and tore big holes in the walls.” Doesn’t that sound like an explosion?

Apparently the police have ruled out speculation that this was a gas canister explosion and although there is “no conclusive proof the damage was caused by a meteorite, it was the most likely explanation.”

Alas, meteorite impacts aren’t likely explanations, terrestrial explanations are the most “likely.” The fact that an Indonesian counter-terrorism squad has been dispatched to the area to look for traces of explosives suggest the authorities aren’t placing all their bets on this being a meteorite impact either.

Thanks to @antonwilliam for the tip!

Source: Jakarta Globe

Israel ‘Meteorite’ Isn’t a Meteorite [UPDATE]

That's no space rock: The Israeli 'meteorite' that never was (Ilan Lilush, Tel Aviv Police).
That's no space rock: The Israeli 'meteorite' that never was (Ilan Lilush, Tel Aviv Police).

UPDATE (April 25): The unidentified combustible object has been identified as being “man made” rather than anything cosmic in origin.

“It is definitely not a meteor and not a different natural substance – somebody created it, and it did not appear from outer space,” said Ittai Gavrieli of the Geological Survey of Israel when reporting after analysis of the ‘meteorite.’

Also, it looks like my original assertion that this resembled an incendiary device wasn’t far off. This object contained high quantities of phosphorus, a chemical commonly used in incendiary weapons.

“The object had high concentrations of phosphorus, which is naturally ignited when it comes in contact with air and with inflammatory material,” Gavrieli added.

However, I still stand by my theory that the Moonpeople are behind it.

(Once again, thanks Avi for keeping me in the loop of these meteorite misadventures!)

[Original post below]

ORIGINAL POST: It has all the hallmarks of being a meteorite: It’s on fire! There’s smoke! Hell, even the BBC is reporting about it!

That’s right, isn’t it? When a chunk of rock flies through the Earth’s atmosphere it burns bright, sometimes exploding during re-entry, scattering the ground like a hellish incendiary device? Scary stuff if you’re standing underneath the cosmic fireball.

It seems that some surfers on the beach near the town of Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, Israel had a lucky escape when an unidentified-smoldering object punched a hole through a surfboard and then sat, for some time, burning amongst the seashells. Lots of excitement ensued, and the whole event was captured on videophone. The Israeli police are investigating, saying the unidentified object “fell from the sky.”

However, looking at the video above, that’s no meteorite.

Sure, when a chunk of space rock enters the Earth’s atmosphere it produces light and flame due to atmospheric ram pressure heating the outer layers, producing a trail of ionized gas. But it’s also worth remembering that space rock is very cold (as it’s been deep frozen in space), so the brief heating during re-entry will not heat the cold rock up substantially when it makes landfall, definitely not enough to make it combust when it lands. Re-entry happens for a very short time, although the shell of the meteorite might heat up a little, the insides of the meteorite remain very cold. Even if the rock was heated up during those few fiery seconds of re-entry, it will decelerate very quickly, falling to the ground at terminal velocity. This would have the effect of cooling it down some more.

In fact, it’s been reported that frost has formed on meteorites as soon as they land. That’s radically different to what we’re seeing here.

Even if this could possibly be a meteorite, what’s burning? Last time I checked, space rock didn’t burn like a firework and produce smoke like a signal flare. And meteorites certainly don’t contain any nitroglycerin. That is unless the Moonpeople are throwing bombs at us again, but I’ll save that theory for another day.

Thanks Avi Joseph for pointing me to this video!

The Real Inspiration Behind “Project M”

The Project M android... haven't I seen you somewhere before?
The Project M android... haven't I seen you somewhere before?

As you know, I’m highly dubious about this “Project M” that has just surfaced on the intertoobs (I strongly suspect it’s a hoax). But doubts aside, I kept looking at that android throwing stones on the lunar surface thinking I’d seen that guy somewhere before. At first, I thought C3PO from Star Wars… but no! It’s this guy:

It's uncanny! Bender from Futurama explores the lunar surface (NASA/20th Century Fox/Ian O'Neill).
It's uncanny! Bender from Futurama explores the lunar surface (NASA/20th Century Fox/Ian O'Neill).

I think Futurama’s Bender would do a fine job exploring the moon.

“Project M”? Let’s Not.

Doing for NASA what Star Wars did for sci-fi, send C3PO to the Moon! Huh?
Doing for NASA what Star Wars did for sci-fi, send C3PO to the Moon! Huh?

OK, so I have little idea about this project because there’s not much information circulating, but I hope it’s not real.

It looks like NASA’s Johnson Space Center is heading up a robotic mission to the Moon. No big surprises there as that plan is pretty much in alignment with the “Flexible Path” for the future of space exploration for the U.S. space agency. Also, now the Constellation Program has bitten the dust, we’re not going to see man return to the Moon any time soon.

So what’s the answer? Send a robot that looks like a human to the Moon instead!

As I said, there’s little information about “Project M” apart from what’s been posted on AmericaSpace:

Project M is a JSC Engineering Directorate led mission to put a lander on the moon with a robot within a 1,000 days starting Jan 1., 2010. “M” has significance in two ways. First, it is the Roman numeral for 1,000. And “M” is the first letter for “Moon”.

How is Project M different from past NASA projects?

  • No prime contractors.
  • No roadblocks.
  • Just use the best engineers in the world to get the job done on time.

There will be full press on this… including embedded media, full multimedia and social networking. Can you say “The Apprentice goes to Space?”

When will Project M begin? Next month? Next year? No, Project M has been “go” since Monday, November 9th.

But “M” is the first letter of “Missing the Point” too, but that hasn’t been mentioned.

The enthusiasm for a robotic mission to the lunar surface sounds fine and dandy, and it’s to be expected, but if they really intend to send a bipedal robotic man to the Moon within 1000 days, then NASA hasn’t learnt anything from the Constellation debacle. This smells like a publicity stunt with little to no direction and it would be a shame if serious funding is being put into it.

Could the bipedal robot just be a metaphor for the project? Possibly, but I’d have to question the common sense in doing that too.

Also, where’s the incentive (indeed urgency) to create a Manhattan Project-style group of engineers to rush this project to completion within 3 years? If the members of Project M think they can avoid the cumbersome red tape and cost overruns that NASA and its contractors have faced in the past, then great, but I don’t think that’s a reality for such an ambitious project that lacks direction.

Sure, there’s funding being ploughed into humanoid robot technology — such as the “Robonaut” that is being developed by JSC engineers and the car maker GM — but the real-world application of androids (robots designed to look and act like a human) is that they can assist human operators. Bipedal androids such as the one depicted in this promo video would be exploring (read: “picking up stones”) space by themselves. There are no humans working along side them and therefore no real reason to create them in the inefficient form of a human.

The human body isn’t exactly an optimized one for space exploration. The next robotic missions to the Moon and Mars will be rovers, with wheels, because guess what? That makes more sense than revolutionizing android technology, sending it to the Moon within 1000 days, only for it to fall over and not be able to stand back up. (I’m sure Project M would counter this argument and say that the technology would have matured to such an extent that the android would be able to stand up again, but why let it fall over at all?) The center of gravity needs to be low for stability and no matter how big you make a robot’s feet, it’s simply not going to be able to explore as efficiently as a wheeled or multi-legged all-terrain vehicle.

So, in short, I see this video as about as valuable as the ad-drawing Moon rover video. And we all know what I thought about that nonsense.

Source: NASAWatch, Universe Today

Much Ado About Apophis

Concept art for the ESA Don Quijote asteroid mission concept (ESA)
Concept art for the ESA Don Quijote asteroid mission (ESA)

Apophis is a 300 meter wide asteroid that caused a stir back in 2004. When NASA discovered the near-Earth asteroid (or NEO), it appeared to be tumbling in our direction Armageddon-style and the initial odds for a 2029 impact were 1-in-37. Understandably, people got scared, the media went nuts and astrophysicists were suddenly very interested in space rock deflection techniques.

Fortunately for us, NASA has downgraded the threat to a zero (note zero) chance of Apophis bumping into us in 2029, and lowered the risk of a follow-up impact in 2036 from a 1-in-45,000 chance to a 1-in-250,000 chance.

It’s important to note that NASA didn’t just pull these numbers out of a hat; the space agency has been tracking Apophis intently since its discovery, plotted its position and projected its location to a very high degree of precision. The more we watch Apophis, the more the world’s scientists are convinced that the asteroid poses a very tiny risk to life on Earth. In fact, giving anything a 1-in-250,000 chance of happening is more of a courtesy than a ‘risk.’ Granted, we’re talking about a global catastrophe should Apophis hit, but would you ever bet on those kinds of odds?

Apparently, the Russian space agency thinks it’s more of a game of Russian Roulette than NASA thinks.

I don’t remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032,” said Anatoly Perminov, the head of Roscosmos, on December 30, 2009. “People’s lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people.”

What are the legal implications of asteroid deflection? Read: Space Experts to Discuss Threat of Asteroid Impact

Wait a minute. Does Perminov know something NASA doesn’t? Is he even referring to Apophis? You know, the same asteroid NASA has calculated that has a cat in hell’s chance of causing bother in 2036? And what’s this about the year 2032?

Just for the record, Perminov is indeed referring to Apophis, but he got the date wrong (Apophis does not make a flyby in 2032). Perminov also puts a price on saving hundreds of thousands of people… “several hundred million dollars” should do it, apparently.

On the one hand I’m impressed that Roscosmos is calling for some kind of anti-asteroid shield, but on the other, Perminov’s concern is terribly misplaced (and potentially damaging). His statement sounds as if he’s only just heard about Apophis and then thrown into a press conference unprepared, then asked what he’s going to do about this impending doom. Naturally, in that situation he would have blurted out the first thing that popped into his head: We need to save the world! However, this isn’t the first time he’d heard about Apophis.

Boris Shustov, the director of the Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, tried to repair the damage pointing out that Perminov was just using Apophis as a “symbolic example, there are many other dangerous objects we know little about.”

However, saving the world from a theoretical “dangerous object” that may or may not hit us for the next few hundred/thousand/million years is less likely to get funding that an imminent 2032… sorry, 2036 impact.

Although Perminov might sound reasonable in asking for asteroid deflection funding, using sensationalist means to try to leverage funding only serves to make the same funding hard to come by.

In the AGU 2009 meeting in San Fransisco last month, ex-Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart outlined his organization’s plans to deflect an asteroid should it pose a threat to Earth. The B612 Foundation points out that there is a ~2% chance of Earth being involved with an “unacceptable” collision in the next century (not by Apophis, but by another undiscovered asteroid), but Schweickart and his colleagues want to emphasize urgency, not panic.

An infrastructure needs to be put in place to deal with asteroid deflection, but this goal will only be hindered by unwarranted alarm by the likes of Perminov. Asteroid detection and deflection will be two critical skills mankind will need to develop for the long-term survival of life on Earth, but the head of Roscosmos is running the risk of making the issue sound more like a crazed rant than anything of substance.

Besides, when Perminov says, “Everything will be done according to the laws of physics,” perhaps he shouldn’t be in charge of messing around with the orbits of NEOs after all…

An Explanation for the Norway Cloud Spiral

The mysterious cloud spiral that appeared over Norway at 7.50am on Wednesday morning took the internet by storm. Every major news outlet was talking about it and Google Search was stuffed full of results.

Like with any unexplained phenomenon, the knee-jerk reaction of conspiracy theorists (and tabloid press, naturally) was that the beautiful blue-white glowing spiral was either of UFO origin (no, not of the “unidentified kind”, but of the “probing-alien kind”), top secret “energy weapon” origin, LHC origin (yes, the Large Hadron Collider black holes are back) or some other supernatural origin. Well, it would appear that only one of those options are partially correct.

All indications pointed to some kind of Russian naval military missile test (because, um, the Northern Fleet was carrying out missile tests in the White Sea at the time), and Doug Ellison, ace space 3D animator from UnmannedSpaceflight.com, put together a demo of how the missile scenario might have played out in the above animation.

I was captivated by his first animation on the phenomenon that Nancy Atkinson presented in her Universe Today post on the subject, but this new animation shows how a failed rocket stage could spin out of control, spiraling fuel into the atmosphere.

Although it might be tempting to rush to the extraterrestrial reasons for the spiral, it would appear the missile scenario is the most plausible answer.

But… there’s a chance that it could have been a wormhole opening up from another universe, allowing the Annunaki to return to Earth ahead of their Planet X invasion force in 2012, but I’ll leave that theory for the doomsday wingnuts to mull over.

Now THAT is what I call a fireball!

Three frames from the South African CCTV footage.
Three frames from the South African CCTV footage.

Having seen some footage of the South African fireball last weekend, I thought it was quite impressive. However, a new video looking along a Johannesburg motorway has appeared online, and it’s superb.

I can’t find much information about this event, but it happened on November 21st and no fragments have been found so far.

Just in case you were in any doubt as to how much energy is released when a chunk of rock hits our atmosphere, this should give you a good impression:

I could almost feel the heat and hear the *KABLAAAM*.

Welcome To My Lava Tube, Premium Lunar Condo Living*

This 65-metre-wide hole in the lunar surface extends at least 80 metres down and could be an opening into a larger lunar cave (Image: ISAS/JAXA/Junichi Haruyama et al.)

Let’s face it, us soft and squidgy humans don’t react particularly well to radiation, the vacuum of space or hypervelocity meteoroids. This being the case, how do we ever hope to settle on other worlds, particularly worlds with dust for a backyard and a sky flooded in radiation from the Solar System’s biggest nuclear reactor (the Sun)? To put it mildly, it’s not going to be easy. In fact, exploring and settling on other celestial bodies will the the biggest challenge us terrestrials will face in the next century.

So we start thinking locally, we start thinking “familiar”; where could we build a habitat that’s a stone’s throw from Earth, where we can do a full-scale practical test of our colonizing skills but be only a couple of days from home?

The Moon is that world and we are currently stumbling our way toward that goal. In fact, it is (currently) one of NASA’s main priorities, to get man back to the Moon by 2020 (although the Augustine Commission report was released today and presents many more options for the future of NASA). Once we do eventually get back to the Moon, our lunar explorers will use man made habitats, but what about longer, more permanent settlements?

We’re going deeper underground

In-situ mining of materials for building habitats and using the landscape to protect settlers isn’t a new idea, but we are beginning to acquire better observations of the Earth’s only natural satellite. And now, observations from the Japanese Kaguya spacecraft (that was deliberately crashed into the lunar surface in June) have been used to scout out a possible location for a future permanent habitat.

Cavemen 2.0 (NASA)
Cavemen 2.0 (NASA)

It may be hard to believe, but the Moon was once a very hot body, where molten rock began to cool shortly after formation. This molten rock eventually solidified, but in doing so, lava burrowed out long channels known as sinuous rilles. These rilles are a sure sign that lava once flowed there. However, scientists have known for some time that beneath these rilles, lava tubes may also hide. The lava tubes formed when the remaining molten rock flowed away, leaving an encrusted layer of rock surrounding a closed network of tunnels.

A lava tube with a view

However, this is the first time a hole in the roof of one of these lava tubes has been found. This hole, for obvious reasons, has been dubbed “a skylight,” and Junichi Haruyama and the SELENE/Kaguya team have been working hard to seek out such features. Their hard work has just paid off.

This is the first time that anybody’s actually identified a skylight in a possible [lunar] lava tube,” said Carolyn van der Bogert, a co-investigator on the team from University of Münster in Germany, of the discovery in a region of the Moon’s near side in Marius Hills.

The skylight measures 65 metres wide and it is thought to extend 80 metres deep. The hole is right in the middle of a rille, indicative of the presence of a lava tube 370 metres across. It is currently unknown whether the skylight allows access to the lava tube (access may be blocked by rubble or solidified magma), but there is the tantalizing possibility that this hole could be used by astronauts to access an underground cave.

Anti-radiation living

Basalt is an extremely good material for radiation protection. It’s free real estate ready to be exploited and modified for human use,” said Penny Boston of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. It’s not exactly a leap of the imagination that locations like the Marius Hills skylight could become very valuable regions when space agencies and potential lunar companies need a permanent foothold on the Moon.

A scene from the movie "Moon" with Sam Rockwell

Until we are able to set foot back on the Moon’s surface, we must rely on robotic explorers to do the reconnaissance work (indeed, that is the main priority for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a satellite capable of snapping images 10× sharper than this Kaguya picture), but the fact remains, features like this are very appealing to help protect us humans from the ravages of space.

Bored of the Moon? Set up home in a Martian divot!

Speaking of extraterrestrial housing options, Mars has some trendy sinkholes that might be a little more spacious than your average lunar lava tube

*Technically, it would be a “condo“; anyone living in the lava tube would own the space inside, they wouldn’t own the lava tube itself. We all know that no one can “own” the Moon don’t we? You can throw away that “Congratulations! You’re Now The Proud Owner Of One Acre Of Lunar Real Estate!” certificate, it’s about as valid as those “I Need Your Bank Account Details To Deposit $1 Million” Nigerian royalty emails.

Source: New Scientist. With a special thanks to @foundonmars for the tip!