Earth is not prepared for the threat of hazardous rocks from space, say astronauts who helped formulate the U.N. measures
When a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February, the world’s space agencies found out along with the rest of us, on Twitter and YouTube. That, says former astronaut Ed Lu, is unacceptable—and the United Nations agrees. Last week the General Assembly approved a set of measures that Lu and other astronauts have recommended to protect the planet from the dangers of rogue asteroids.
The U.N. plans to set up an “International Asteroid Warning Group” for member nations to share information about potentially hazardous space rocks. If astronomers detect an asteroid that poses a threat to Earth, the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will help coordinate a mission to launch a spacecraftto slam into the object and deflect it from its collision course.
Lu and other members of the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) recommended these steps to the U.N. as a first step to address at the long-neglected problem of errant space rocks. “No government in the world today has explicitly assigned the responsibility for planetary protection to any of its agencies,” ASE member Rusty Schweickart, who flew on the Apollo 9 mission in 1969, said at the museum. “NASA does not have an explicit responsibility to deflect an asteroid, nor does any other space agency.” The ASE advocates that each nation delegate responsibility for dealing with a potential asteroid impact to an internal agency—before the event is upon us.
The next step in defending Earth against dangerous asteroids is to find them, Lu said. “There are 100 times more asteroids out there than we have found. There are about 1 million asteroids large enough to destroy New York City or larger. Our challenge is to find these asteroids first before they find us.”
Early warning is important because it increases the chance of being able to deflect a threatening asteroid once it is found. If a spacecraft struck an asteroid 5 or 10 years before the rock was due to hit Earth, a slight orbital alternation should be enough to make it pass Earth by; if the asteroid wasn’t detected soon enough, evacuating the impact zone may be the only option available. “If we don’t find it until a year out, make yourself a nice cocktail and go out and watch,” Schweickart quipped.
The B612 Foundation, a non profit Lu founded to address the problem of asteroid impacts, is developing a privately funded infrared space telescope called Sentinel, which it hopes to launch in 2017. The telescope would begin a systematic search for hazardous near-Earth objects.
The ASE astronauts are also asking the United Nations to coordinate a practice asteroid deflection mission to test out the technologies for pushing a rock off course should the need arise. The meteor in Chelyabinsk, which injured 1,000 people but killed none, was an ideal warning shot across the bow, said American Museum of Natural History astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, who hosted Friday’s event—now, it’s time for Earth’s citizens to take action. Lu agreed: “Chelyabinsk was bad luck,” he said. “If we get hit again 20 years from now, that is not bad luck—that’s stupidity.”
I’m a stickler for accuracy when it comes to dinosaurs, so I felt like making a quick list of inaccuracies. Obviously, no one cares, but it makes me feel better, so yeah.
Pronated Hands - If you see a theropod dinosaur like Tyrannosaurus orVelociraptor with its hands parallel to the ground, that’s inaccurate! All theropod dinosaurs (along with their close relatives, sauropodomorphs like Plateosaurus and Massospondylus) could not rotate their arms to have their palms face the ground, and thus always kept them facing each other.
Tripod Stance - Next up on the list of inaccuracies with theropods is the tripod stance, in which the tail is dragging on the floor, and the dinosaur’s body is held vertically. It’s now known that dinosaurs always held their tails up in the air, and kept their backs horizontal. (Thus, this also applies to sauropods who have their tails dragging on the ground behind them, but this obviously isn’t tripod stance) It is thought, however, that diplodocid sauropods and stegosaurs may have gone into a tripod-like stance to reach higher vegetation, so an image depicting this shouldn’t be thought as inaccurate.
Vertical Neck Sauropods - Now, to clarify, this only really applies to diplodocid sauropods like Diplodocus and Apatosaurus, as macronarians like Brachiosaurus and Camarasaurus definitely held their necks higher up, so as not to compete with diplodocids. Diplodocid sauropods usually held their necks horizontal, which, along with their tail being held up, would help in balance. Now, this isn’t to say that they couldn’t raise their neck up and down, but they didn’t hold them up completely vertical like say, a giraffe.
Dromaeosaur Tail Flexibility - Dromaeosaurs like Deinonychus andVelociraptor had tails supported by what are called “ossified tendons”, which act as stiff rods that kept the tail straight for the most part. Thus, they could not perform any serpentine wiggling or curling. Now, this isn’t to say that they were completely inflexible, but they couldn’t curl to a very great degree.
Theropod Digits - Basically, most theropods have three digits. Some, like tyrannosaurs, only had two (although more basal species had three). So any “Tyrannosaurus” depicted with three fingers is inaccurate. No theropods had any number greater than three (some older species had a small protrusion where the fourth digit was, and Carnotaurus had a spur-like fourth digit)
Non-Dinosaurs - One of the most wide-spread of inaccuracies is basically just mistaking other ancient reptiles for dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are purely terrestrial (unless of course you bring birds into the equation) archosaurs (Archosauria being the group which contains dinosaurs, crocodiles, pterosaurs, and birds, as well as some others) that lived solely in the Mesozoic (again, unless you count birds). This means that pterosaurs (or pterodactyls) are not dinosaurs, since although they are also mesozoic archosaurs, they were capable of flight, and thus not fully terrestrial. Even farther from dinosaurs are ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, and pliosaurs, groups of marine reptiles that lived in the Mesozoic, since these aren’t even in Archosauria. Ichthyosaurs are off by themselves, while plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, and mosasaurs are in Lepidosauromorpha, plesiosaurs and pliosaurs being in their own group of Sauropterygia while mosasaurs are in Squamata. These groups were completely marine, and most likely never came ashore, and thus, are not dinosaurs. Another group confused with dinosaurs are the reptiles of the Permian, like Dimetrodon (a quadrupedal sail-backed reptile). There were no dinosaurs in the Permian, since dinosaurs only appeared in the Mesozoic, while the Permian is in the Paleozoic.
Alright, I can’t really think of anything else, so I’ll just end it here. Hope you enjoyed reading this little rant that probably will affect nothing, but hey, if you learned something, that’s great!
Anyone unfamiliar with the biology of the venomous Portuguese man-of-war would likely mistake it for a jellyfish. Not only is it not a jellyfish, it’s not even an “it,” but a “they.” The Portuguese man-of-war is a siphonophore, an animal made up of a colony of organisms working together.
The man-of-war comprises four separate polyps. It gets its name from the uppermost polyp, a gas-filled bladder, or pneumatophore, which sits above the water and somewhat resembles an old warship at full sail. Man-of-wars are also known as bluebottles for the purple-blue color of their pneumatophores.
The tentacles are the man-of-war’s second organism. These long, thin tendrils can extend 165 feet (50 meters) in length below the surface, although 30 feet (10 meters) is more the average. They are covered in venom-filled nematocysts used to paralyze and kill fish and other small creatures. For humans, a man-of-war sting is excruciatingly painful, but rarely deadly. But beware—even dead man-of-wars washed up on shore can deliver a sting.
Muscles in the tentacles draw prey up to a polyp containing the gastrozooids or digestive organisms. A fourth polyp contains the reproductive organisms.
Man-of-wars are found, sometimes in groups of 1,000 or more, floating in warm waters throughout the world’s oceans. They have no independent means of propulsion and either drift on the currents or catch the wind with their pneumatophores. To avoid threats on the surface, they can deflate their air bags and briefly submerge.