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!

I, For One, Welcome Our New BritSpace Overlords

The Habitation Extension Module (HEM) proposed by UK engineers (University of Bristol)
The Habitation Extension Module (HEM) proposed by UK engineers (University of Bristol)

The UK has started its own space agency (at long last) and the agency has a logo. The latter is the big news here.

At a time when motivation for manned spaceflight by NASA is dwindling and yet private industry is forcing its foot in the door of getting stuff into space, it’s nice to hear that the UK government felt the need to keep up with the rest of the world and set up an agency of their own. That’s not to say the UK hasn’t been involved in space programs before now, it’s just that our involvement has always been a piecemeal approach; hitching rides on other nation’s rockets with occasional probes (erm, well, the Mars Beagle 2 lander is the only one that comes to mind). Personally, I blame Maggie Thatcher (I have my reasons).

Awesome, so we now have an agency rather than an office cubicle tagged “Space.” This is a bona fide agency that has lunar aspirations (yep, really, we’re that original) and a funky logo to boot.

However, not everyone is impressed with the logo. In fact, Ken Carbone, a graphic designer who writes for the website Fast Company, thinks it’s dull:

The design recipe is simple, right? Take a square, add a Union Jack, thrust an arrow through it and BAM!

This logo is anything but tasty. The net result looks terribly fractured and unstable. Not the ideal visual for space flight.

To make matters worse, the U.K. Space Agency will have the inevitable and unfortunate acronym “U.K.S.A.” which sounds like something translated into Pig Latin.

But say if “fractured and unstable” is exactly the impression we were trying to give, huh? But, in all fairness, he does point out that all space agency logos are dull.

Let’s have a look the offending logo. Prepare yourself, it’s a disgrace:

Woah! Hold on a second. I thought it was supposed to be crap? As far as logos go, that’s one I can believe in. I mean, it’s a re-worked version of our proud national flag. It also has a gert red arrow, pointing up. What more do you need?

Admittedly, I think the acronym isn’t much cop. U.K.S.A. sucks cheese, “BritSpace” is far superior in my humble opinion (Science Minister Lord Drayson, consider that a suggestion), but as for the logo, I’m proud of that, I think it means business. Look at that arrow. It’s red. Pointing up. Masculine. Grrr.

That’s the logo of an aspiring space faring nation if I ever saw one.

And now for my least favorite space agency logo. Ladies and Gentlemen, please avert your eyes for the Croatian Space Agency:

But hey, what do I know, I’m not a graphic designer.

In all honesty, I like the UKSA logo, but I’m especially happy that the UK actually has an agency now rather than being just a player in the European Space Agency (ESA). But will it motivate a solution to the summering STFC debacle? That remains to be seen.

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.

How are Black Holes Used in the Movies?

Source: Graph Jam

I mean, is the spaghettification of John Cusack using awesome 2012 doomsday graphics too much to ask? Instead of an improbable alien spacecraft appearing over the White House, why not use a black hole, producing so much tidal shear that it rips the building apart brick-by brick? Oh, and then have all the matter being sucked into the black hole accelerate to relativistic velocities, creating an X-ray belching accretion disk, lighting up the solar system with our planet’s regurgitated mass-energy? Movie audiences will have a total doomgasm over that!

Or we could just use it as a nifty time travel device.

*I just saw this on Graph Jam, had a giggle. More sci-fi black holes please!

Vote Discovery News for a Shorty Award…

…otherwise some Twilight fan site might win. And that would be bad.

I don’t really get the whole smoldering vampire craze that’s going on at the moment, but the movies New Moon and Twilight certainly have fans going nutty about fangs and moody teenagers. I actually saw Twilight the other day, and it was the first film I’ve ever seen acted through… awkward glances. I felt embarrassed watching it. Not because it was bad; it’s that you really feel the teenage angst ooze from the DVD. For that reason alone it was certainly well acted. Will I watch the sequel New Moon? Probably, if I tripped, fell and found myself in a theater with a jumbo bag of popcorn. Of course not! (Might do.)

Anyhow, this Twilight thing has gotten out of hand, and in the “Oscars of Twitter” (the Shorty Awards), a Twilight fan club is powering up the charts in the #news category. Yes, that’s #news (note the bold hashtag there).

As none of the mainstream news heavyweights appear to be in contention for the #news title, Team Discovery News has decided to dominate this category, aiming to at least catch up with the teeny vampire fan club. But it’s not going to be easy, they have 450 votes. We have… 16. But from small acorns, a Discovery News Shorty Award may grow! Plus we only started campaigning today, so anything could happen.

So, if you’re a fan of the sci-tech news we produce at Discovery News, and you’ve been following our informative, witty, awesome tweets, please consider voting for us by tweeting:

I nominate @Discovery_News for a Shorty Award in #news because [insert reason here]

For example: “I nominate @Discovery_News for a Shorty Award in #news because their science news rocks my cosmos,” or “I nominate @Discovery_News for a Shorty Award in #news because vampires suck cheese.” You get the picture.

Alternatively you can place your vote on the Shorty Awards page and keep track on how @Discovery_News is doing.

As always you can also follow my awesome tweeting action on @Discovery_Space and @astroengine. My pet rabbit has also taken to microblogging, so you might want to get the inside scoop from him too: @Barney_Bunny.

Thanks to our Discovery News sustainable tech writer Alyssa Danigelis for the tip-off!

The LHC Black Hole Rap… Best Yet

Released in December 2009, Kate McAlpine (a.k.a. AlpineKat) put together the rather fun “Black Hole Rap” in an effort to trivialize the disinformation being peddled about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). You might remember AlpineKat from the hugely popular (and deliciously geeky) “LHC Rap” that has generated over 5 million hits on the YouTube video. Here’s the newest music video filmed in the depths of the French-Swiss border:

Unfortunately, the crazy “LHC Doomsday Suit” that tried (and failed, miserably) to stop LHC operations is still fresh in people’s minds. However, physicists have stepped up to the plate to debunk the claims and the LHC is happily colliding protons to its heart’s content. I love it how science wins, despite the noise made by a few crazed doomsday wingnuts…

Borg Cube Spotted Near Solar Limb

There I was idly checking out SpaceWeather.com, seeing whether there was any sunspot activity going on… and then I saw this. At first, I assumed it was a highly symmetrical sunspot, but no! It was something far more sinister, but I didn’t recognize the hallmark signature. Neal Wiser saw it instantly and informed me via Twitter. A Borg Cube!

Of course it isn’t a Borg Cube (it’s just missing data), but this little Twitter joviality reminded me of the 2012/Planet X doomsday conspiracy theorists who seem to have the uncanny ability to read anything into, well, anything. Take the observations made by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) which have been used over and over again as “proof” that UFOs and other scary things are orbiting the Sun, preparing for Armageddon… or the next Star Trek movie.

Oh look! SOHO has spotted a star! A comet! With wings!! Hold on? Isn’t that just an effect of saturated CCD pixels? No? Okay, it must be aliens then.

Spirit Suffers Another Bout of Amnesia. Spirit Suffers Another Bout of Amnesia.

"Oh, that's a nice view, I hadn't noticed that hill before. Hey, that's a pretty-looking rock!"

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is suffering from amnesia, again.

This is hardly surprising if we consider that the lifespan of Spirit should have been 3 months, the fact that it has lasted 69 months (so far) is nothing short of miraculous. In rover-mission-lifetime years, doesn’t that make Spirit and her twin sister Opportunity 1380 years old? (I decided that a “lifetime” is 60 years, in case you were wondering.) Perhaps that’s not how it works, but for NASA to build a robot that has lived 23 times longer than the mission specified is pretty damn impressive. No wonder Spirit is losing her memory. I’m surprised she hasn’t lost the will to live.

Spirit has lost the use of one of her wheels and remains stuck in the sand… so she is showing her age. But still, 23× longer than planned? When I’m 1380 years old, I hope I’m only suffering amnesia every now and again.

Source: Physorg.com

What Will It Take To Blow Up Pluto?

“25 billion of your biggest bombs please. I’ll pay credit, thanks!”

"I love the smell of venting volatiles in the morning..."
"I love the smell of venting volatiles in the morning..."

The Pluto debate frustrates me, as you may have noticed. It’s not that I have particularly strong views about whether it should be called a planet or a dwarf planet or a plutoid or pygmy planetoid, it’s that I really don’t care; I actually see Pluto’s “demotion” as exciting progress in the field of Solar System science rather than any derogatory gesture aimed at Pluto. Pluto is still Pluto; it hasn’t been knocked out of orbit, it hasn’t even been “bombed” (unlike our poor old Moon), it’s just being filed under a different category.

A King Amongst Dwarfs

In my opinion, calling Pluto a “planet” was unworkable, especially after a bigger dwarf planet was discovered in 2005 by a team of astronomers led by Dr. Mike Brown. This dwarf planet was named Eris (or 136199 Eris) and at first it seemed like we had gained a tenth planet.

The “ten planets” thing was short lived, however. In recognition that Eris probably represented the beginning of a spate of discoveries of welterweight worlds, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) took a vote in 2006 and decided to redefine what constitutes a planet. Pluto was in the firing line, became a rounding error and was dropped from the planetary club.

Kicked out and nowhere to go.
Kicked out and nowhere to go.

But it wasn’t all bad for the little guy. Pluto was designated king of all “plutoids” (trans-Neptunian dwarf planets) in 2008, meaning another three dwarf planets now orbited the Sun with this designation (Eris, Haumea, and Makemake in addition to Pluto).

In a previous Astroengine article, I made the point (and I’m going to quote myself because I can):

Just so my opinion is known, I don’t care what Pluto is called. If NASA decided to explode Pluto as part of a Kuiper belt clearing project, then yes, I might be a bit annoyed; I’d even start a blog titled “Save Pluto.” But calling Pluto a dwarf planet (or the rather cute plutino) really doesn’t bother me.

I haven’t really thought much about this statement until, today, @PlutoKiller himself (Mike Brown) tweeted, “Seriously, what just happened? The entire discussion is on placing explosives in the solar system. Pluto has not even been mentioned.” I then fired off a reply saying something about building a New Horizons 2 and packing it with plutonium to which @PlutoKiller said, Evil Santa-style: “Just in time for Xmas.”

And then the penny dropped.

Kuiper Belt Cruelness

To be honest, I’m astonished I haven’t thought of this before. Looking at Mike’s Twitter feed should have been enough inspiration, but until I wondered down the bombing Pluto => plutonium enrichment => lets fly a shedload of plutonium to Pluto path, that I asked the question: How much energy is needed to completely destroy Pluto?

Now we’re talking! Time for some Kuiper belt mayhem!

It might seem quiet now...
It might seem quiet now...

I’m not talking about simply bombing Pluto and making a big crater, I’m not even talking about fire bombing all the volatiles out of its frozen surface, I want to remove Pluto from existence. Why do I want to do this? Well, for fun, and because @PlutoKiller himself said so. And it’s Halloween, so why not?

So how much energy is required to do this?

For this gargantuan task, I cheated and looked up the method used by Matt Springer over at Built on Facts to derive how much energy was required by the Star Wars Death Star to shred Earth. In that case, 2.2 × 1032 Joules was needed to totally erase our planet (that’s a week’s-worth of solar output). That’s a lot, right?

Plutoid Killing Equation

Now, energy is energy and mass is mass, let’s give Pluto the same treatment. Using the following equation (known henceforth as the “Plutoid Killing Equation”, or simply PluKE), we can find out how much energy we need to erase Pluto:

The equation that can turn a dwarf planet into dust, as derived by Matt Springer.

This equation is the total gravitational binding energy of a sphere of mass, M and radius, R. G is the Gravitational Constant. For Pluto, a sphere, its vital statistics are:

MPluto = 1.305 × 1022 kg

RPluto = 1.153 × 106 m

and

G = 6.673 × 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2

Plugging the numbers into PluKE, we can derive the total energy required to kill Pluto, literally:

EPluto(dead) = 5.914×1027 Joules

Oops, who put those WMDs there?
Oops, who put those WMDs there?

But what does this number mean? This is the bare minimum energy required to match the gravitational binding energy of Pluto. If you want to rip the dwarf planet apart (plus pyrotechnics and speeding debris), you’ll need a lot more energy. However, nearly 6×1027 Joules (that’s a 6 followed by 27 zeros) delivered into Pluto in one second should give the little world a very bad day.

Tsar Very Much

But how can we “deliver” this vast quantity of energy in one second? I suspect that any super-advanced civilization hell-bent of wiping out planets will have a better idea of this than me, but using weapons that are available to modern man might be a good place to start. Forget the uber-powerful death ray emitted by the Death Star, that’s sci-fi. It may not be sci-fact, but how about sending some nuclear bombs to the Kuiper belt?

How many bombs will we need? Ten? Ten dozen? A thousand?

The most powerful nuclear weapon tested was the Soviet 58 MT Tsar Bomba in 1961. So if we know how much energy is released by one of those beasts, we should be able to work out how many we’ll need to send to the unsuspecting Pluto.

1 MT = 1 megaton of TNT = 4.184×1015 Joules

therefore, a single Tsar Bomba has the potential to release an energy of:

58 MT = 58 × 4.184×1015 Joules = 2.427×1017 Joules

We needed 6×1027 Joules to wipe out Pluto, obviously the 2.4×1017 Joules a single bomb can deliver is woefully short of our goal. So how many Tsar Bomba weapons do we need?

(6×1027 Joules) / (2.4×1017 Joules) = 2.5×1010

We need to build 25,000,000,000 nuclear bombs. 25 billion. Ouch.

Obviously, looking at this estimation, it is impossible to destroy a dwarf planet as puny as Pluto using the most powerful weapon known to man. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that this is the bare minimum of energy that needs to be applied to Pluto to match its gravitational binding energy, so to destroy it, you’ll need a lot more bombs.

There’s also the question of how to distribute the weapons. Would you put them all in one place? Distribute them all around the globe? Perhaps burrow into the centre of the body? I suppose putting all the bombs in one place might be impressive, kicking a chunk of plutoid into space.

Now I must report these findings to @PlutoKiller himself, I fear he won’t be happy with the outcome of my calculations

Prof. Brian Cox Accidentally REVEALS the TRUTH About the LHC!!!!

(Note the clever use of CAPS and excessive exclamation marks in the title. It speaks volumes.)

I guess this confirms I was wrong. Consider this an apology to all the crackpots, doomsayers, cranks and Walter Wagner. I’m sorry I got it all… so… wrong.

While out on the town in London, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait pulled Prof. Brian Cox out of a pub and subjected him to some intense interrogation. Obviously caught with his guard down, Cox folded under the pressure and briefly told the world what we can expect when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) recommences experiments in November. Wow, just… wow.

This made me giggle. Looks like TAM London was a tonne of fun, hopefully next time I can go.

But for now, sorry Walter, you’re still wrong.