13 awesome and scary things in near Earth space

Space debris, comets, asteroids and cool clouds highlight Earth space news

There were a few interesting news items regarding the space around Earth this week. First NASA published a depiction of how the asteroids and comets that travel near the Earth. Second, the space agency issued another depiction of three of the largest contributors to space debris and how it orbits the planet. It makes you wonder why more things don’t smash into each other more often in space. Take a look at those news items and some other amazing things that have or will happen in the space around Earth.

Fengyun-1C and Cosmos 2251

The U.S. Space Surveillance Network catalogs debris from the two most prolific events in Earth orbit: the intentional destruction of the Chinese Fengyun-1C spacecraft in January 2007 and the accidental collision of the Russian Cosmos 2251 and the U.S. Iridium 33 spacecraft in February 2009. Here the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office shows the debris from Fengyun-1C and Cosmos 2251 now completely encircle the planet.

Cosmos 2251

Cosmos 2251 debris around the planet.

Iridium 33

NASA Orbital Debris Program Office says since Iridium 33 was in a nearly polar inclination (86.4 degrees), the orbital planes of its debris are taking longer to diverge as a result of lower differential precession rates.

near-Earth asteroids
NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's diagram details what it calls the differences between orbits of a typical near-Earth asteroid (blue) and a potentially hazardous asteroid, or PHA (orange). PHAs are a subset of the near-Earth asteroids (NEA) and have the closest orbits to Earth's orbit, coming within 5 million miles (about 8 million kilometers). They also are large enough to survive passage through Earth's atmosphere and cause damage on a regional, or greater, scale, NASA said. The orbits of the planets Mercury, Venus and Mars are shown in grey. Earth's orbit stands out in green between Venus and Mars. The blue and orange dots represent a simulation of the population of near-Earth asteroids and PHAs, respectively, which are larger than 330 feet (100 meters).

X1.4 class flare
SDO/AIA

Solar activity continues to be in the news as the Sun pumps out incredible flares. An X1.4 class flare erupted from the center of the sun, peaking on July 12, 2012.

International Space Station

Computer-generated artist's rendering of the International Space Station as of July 1, 2012. Space.com recently wrote of the ISS: [It] is the most complex international scientific and engineering project in history and the largest structure humans have ever put into space. This high-flying satellite is a laboratory for new technologies and an observation platform for astronomical, environmental and geological research. As a permanently occupied outpost in outer space, it serves as a stepping stone for further space exploration.

Eta Corvi

NASA said this artist's conception illustrates a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. Evidence for this barrage comes from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, whose infrared detectors picked up indications that comets were recently torn to shreds after colliding with a rocky body. In this artist's conception, one such giant comet is shown smashing into a rocky planet, flinging ice- and carbon-rich dust into space, while also smashing water and organics into the surface of the planet.

Expedition 31

One of the Expedition 31 crew members aboard the Earth-orbiting International Space Station recorded this image of what are known as mesospheric clouds and the moon on June 15, 2012.

Another shot from the International Space Station shows an eclipse and what NASA called the “smoky gray shadow of the moon, cast on bright clouds of the northern Pacific Ocean.”

NASA launched five suborbital sounding rockets from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream. This image was captured on March 27, 2012. Tracking the way the clouds move can help scientists understand the movement of the winds some 65 miles up in the sky, which in turn will help create better models of the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage man-made satellites and disrupt communications systems.

Asteroid 2005 YU55

Here NASA's Deep Space Network antenna in Goldstone, Calif. captured radar images of Asteroid 2005 YU55 passing close to Earth. The next known approach of an asteroid this size will be in 2028.

2011 AG5

Researchers anticipate that the 460 foot (140 meters) asteroid 2011 AG5, discovered in January 2011, will fly safely past and not impact Earth in 2040. Observations to date indicate there is a slight chance that AG5 could impact Earth in 2040. Attendees expressed confidence that in the next four years, analysis of space and ground-based observations will show the likelihood of 2011 AG5 missing Earth to be greater than 99%.