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Current State of Affairs

Asteroid collisions with Earth are more common than previously thought. The International Monitoring System (IMS), regulated by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) (http://www.ctbto.org/map/), has been detecting shock waves, characteristic of asteroid impact airbursts, with increasing frequency over the last few years.

To corroborate this, scientists would like to use observations from spacecrafts and measurements from infrasound detectors. However, the NASA budget cuts means that this reality may not come to fruition, slowing advances in the field dramatically.

What is the Public Allowed to Know?

The Air Force Space Command (http://www.afspc.af.mil/) signed a memorandum of agreement with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate
(http://www.nasa.gov/about/directorates/) on January 18th 2013. This made meteor data, previously top-secret, available to the public.

Since then, NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program (http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/) has been receiving a vast amount of information from US government sensors and military space crafts. These are now publicly accessible at the NASA website run by the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/). More meteor explosions and fireballs, termed ‘’superbolide’’ events, are being documented and recorded as a result.

What are the Problems?

Budget cuts have impacted the workforce, tasked with documenting asteroid events. Lindley Neil Johnson (http://epoxi.umd.edu/1mission/bios/johnson_l.shtml), NEO program executive within the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington DC (http://science.nasa.gov/about-us/) recently stated, 

We are already in discussions about what it will take to get it restarted,” to (http://space.com).

Consultants will always recommend a reduction in workforce to save money. But this is expected to have a significant effect on the rate at which scientists can make sense of all the data. Especially as information being brought to NASA’s attention is increasing rapidly.

Clark Chapman (http://www.boulder.swri.edu/~cchapman/), an asteroid expert at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado told space.com that the use of US military acquired data,

‘’is a vital resource to the scientific community. The data provides information about the actual rates of such events, which can be tough to gauge’’.

He hopes that NASA encourages the military to resume this small but important activity and not let it get swept aside in the onslaught of budget cuts.

The NASA Renaissance

Since its inception in the mid-1990s, data from CTBTO has led to a renaissance in the global detection of low-frequency airwaves (infrasound) from bolides, said Peter Brown, director of the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (http://cpsx.uwo.ca/) at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

"The value of infrasonic bolide detection is the ability to monitor all parts of the globe, particularly the oceans, for airbursts and provide an estimate of their location and origin time,” Brown told space.com. 

With additional signal processing and comparison with other explosive events in Earth’s atmosphere , Brown said that CTBTO infrasound airburst energies are now routinely computed and have been found to be robust over many orders of magnitude.

"The current IMS network consists of over 40 infrasound stations, making global monitoring for events as small as 1 kiloton relatively complete,” Brown said. ”As the network continues to expand and new, automated processing techniques are applied to IMS infrasound data, I expect more airburst events to be identified even sooner after they occur.”

The Future

Data from the nuclear weapons test warning network, supplied by Brown, will be showcased on Earth Day (April 22) (http://www.earthday.org/) during a B612 Foundation (https://b612foundation.org/) news conference at the Seattle Museum of Flight (http://www.museumofflight.org/?gclid=CLD0nsW79L0CFWzHtAod2TkA-Q). A new video will show multiple atomic-bomb-scale asteroid impacts on Earth since 2001. 

The non-profit B612 Foundation is partnering with Ball Aerospace (http://ballaerospace.com) on the infrared Sentinel Space Telescope (https://b612foundation.org/sentinel-mission/the-mission/). From a Venus-like orbit around the sun, Sentinel is designed to find and track asteroids, some of which might hit Earth

According to former astronaut Ed Lu (http://edlu.com/), CEO of the B612 Foundation, the video shows that asteroid impacts are actually 3-10 times more common than previously thought! 

"The fact that none of these asteroid impacts, shown in the video, were detected in advance, is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a city-killer-sized asteroid is blind luck,” Lu said in a statement.

Written by Joseph Dent
@JDent2612
http://about.me/jdent2612/

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