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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Just the Facts?: 1Kg Meteorite Piece Recovered -- Comet Heading Towards Mars? -- Unknown Carcass in Wales

1kg meteorite piece found in Russian Urals...biggest chunk yet discovered

The fallen meteorite has turned into a cash cow in the Urals. Both experts and amateurs are aggressively searching the area for remnants, while entrepreneurs sell dozens of 'meteorite fragments' online, print t-shirts, guide tours and bake cookies.

The biggest officially-confirmed fragment of the meteorite was found on Monday by a local ski expedition.

"It weighs about a kilogram," Viktor Grokhovsky from the Urals University says, "We haven't precisely weighed it yet, since it needs to be conserved first so not to get acidified."

The number of fragments found by authorized meteorite specialists amounts to a few hundred by now. Online 'meteorite' sales, though, suggest there are hundreds more, only with no way of proving that any of them are real.

Grokhovsky believes bunches more are still to be found, including a possible biggest chunk that he says may lie at the bottom of Lake Chebarkul. It could be up to 60cm in diameter, he assures.

Scientists and divers promise to scrutinize every centimeter of Lake Chebarkul. Teams are on the spot with all possible gear that could be helpful in the search.

If you cannot find a meteorite, you can buy one. Numerous online announcements offer meteorite fragments of smaller sizes on sale. Prices differ from a few bucks to a few thousand. The most expensive offer is placed at a Chinese online store at the price of 100,000 yuan (about US$16,000).

Meteorite sellers assure their fragments are a real deal. They say the extraterrestrial object will bring good luck and help treat depression. If you can’t afford a meteorite fragment, there are t-shirts with 'meteorite' imprints, and more related regalia likely to appear on sale soon.

The meteorite may bring luck - and money - not just to the physical owners of either fake or real things and their speculators, but also to some serious businesses. A local confectionery company has applied to license the brand names of 'Mystery Meteorite', 'Urals Meteorite' and 'Chebarkul Meteorite' planning to produce cookies and sweets.

Tourists can now get a guided tour to Lake Chebakul to see the layout of the historic meteorite fall first hand. Local authorities hope the now-famous lake will attract crowds of tourists into the region.

The local museum shares that hope. It has set up a display of photos and videos of the dramatic meteorite crash, which includes both rare and viral images.

The meteorite descended on Russia’s Urals Region early on February 15. The shock wave blew out hundreds of meters of window glass, injuring nearly 1,500 people. Nobody was killed in the incident, a fact considered a miracle by many, especially as scientists said the meteorite explosion in the atmosphere was 30 times stronger than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. - RT

Field Guide to Meteors and Meteorites (Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy Series)

Meteorites: Witnesses of the Origin of the Solar Systems

Meteorite Hunting: How To Find Treasure From Space


Remember the 1970's oil crisis and long gas lines?


China's 400 “cancer villages,” and the government only just admitted it

China’s “growth at all costs” approach to development has meant industries can spew waste pretty much wherever they want. Drinking water sources? Sure. Farmland? Fine. That approach has poisoned entire towns, sending cancer rates soaring.

There are now so many that they’ve earned their own moniker: “cancer villages.” Conservative estimates have found more than 100 of them in China. But the number of cancer villages could be as high as 400, though, say recent reports.

At least the government is now acknowledging their existence. This admission came in its newly unveiled plan to curb the release of toxic chemicals—a major move considering these matters pose potential threats to its stability.

China’s water pollution is visibly rampant.

Of course, trash is the least worrisome problem. In a survey of 40,000 chemical and petrochemical plants, 23% of hazardous plants were within five kilometers (paywall), or three miles, upstream of drinking water sources, reports the South China Morning Post.

It’s already costing China a lot. Speaking with Britain’s The Telegraph, Deng said, “If the issue [of ground water pollution] is not properly solved, not only will it kill people but it will also drag down the entire healthcare system because of the number of cancer patients it causes.” The government now plans to spend $850 billion to clean up its water. Its track record is lousy, though. It spent $112 billion on this from 2005-10, but 43% of the water it monitors is still dangerous to humans.

Of course, China’s scary air has stolen the show of late. As of 2011, Beijing’s lung cancer rate had leapt 60% in the previous 10 years, even as smoking rates stayed stable, the deputy director of the Beijng Health Bureau told China Daily. So how much worse was the air in January and early February, when it was literally off the pollution charts?

China Academy of Sciences is starting to form an answer. It just reported that January’s noxious fug hanging over Beijing and other major cities contained the same chemicals as the “photochemical smog” that killed more than 800 Los Angeles residents in 1940-50.

A similar type of smog enshrouded London for four days in early December of 1952, causing the premature deaths of some 4,000 people (pdf, p. 7). (Most of these were respiratory and cardiovascular disease; the cancer rate isn’t clear.)

The Chinese researchers looking into this winter’s smog epidemic found that 800 million people were affected, spread over 1.4 million square kilometers (540,000 square miles). Hospital admissions in major cities soared during that time. China hasn’t reported any resulting mortality rates yet. But then, it also took decades for UK authorities to assess the December 1952 death toll—and that fog lasted only four days. - QZ


Unknown carcass washes ashore in Wales

This mysterious creature was washed up on Tenby’s South Beach over the weekend.

The photographs were taken by 27 year-old Peter Bailey from Tenby who was walking his dog along the beach on Friday evening.

He told the Western Telegraph: "I was taking my dog for her evening walk across the south beach when she started acting out of character by howling and running round in circles.

"I ran up to her to see if she was ok and then I came across this hideous looking carcass. I could see it had little hair left on it's decomposing body.

"Immediately I thought it was a horse but it had claws like a bear and a body of a pig. Surprisingly it didn't smell." - Western Telegraph


Could a Comet Hit Mars in 2014?

A recently discovered comet will make an uncomfortably-close planetary flyby next year — but this time it’s not Earth that’s in the cosmic crosshairs.

According to preliminary orbital prediction models, comet C/2013 A1 will buzz Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. The icy interloper is thought to originate from the Oort Cloud — a hypothetical region surrounding the solar system containing countless billions of cometary nuclei that were outcast from the primordial solar system billions of years ago.

We know that the planets have been hit by comets before (re: the massive Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 that crashed into Jupiter in 1994) and Mars, in particular, will have been hit by comets in the past. It’s believed Earth’s oceans were created, in part, by water delivered by comets — cometary impacts are an inevitable part of living in this cosmic ecosystem.

C/2013 A1 was discovered by ace comet-hunter Robert McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, on Jan. 3. When the discovery was made, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona looked back over their observations to find “prerecovery” images of the comet dating back to Dec. 8, 2012. These observations placed the orbital trajectory of comet C/2013 A1 through Mars orbit on Oct. 19, 2014.

Could the Red Planet be in for a potentially huge impact next year? Will Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity be in danger of becoming scrap metal?

It seems the likelihood of an awesome planetary impact is low — for now.

According to calculations by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), close approach data suggests the comet is most likely to make a close pass of 0.0007 AU (that’s approximately 63,000 miles from the Martian surface). However, there’s one huge caveat.

Due to uncertainties in the observations — the comet has only been observed for 74 days (so far), so it’s difficult for astronomers to forecast the comet’s precise location in 20 months time — comet C/2013 A1 may fly past at a very safe distance of 0.008 AU (650,000 miles). But to the other extreme, its orbital pass could put Mars directly in its path. At time of Mars close approach (or impact), the comet will be barreling along at a breakneck speed of 35 miles per second (126,000 miles per hour).

Also, we don’t yet know how big comet C/2013 A1 is, but comets typically aren’t small. If it did hit, the impact could be a huge, global event. But the comet’s likely location in 2014 is also highly uncertain, so this is by no means a “sure thing” for Mars impact (Curiosity, you can relax, for now).

One thing is looking likely, however. Mars could be in for its own “cometary spectacular.”

A flyby of that distance will mean that should C3/2013 A1 erupt with a tail and coma around its nucleus (as it becomes heated by solar radiation), our Mars rovers and orbiting armada of planetary observation satellites will have a very intimate view of this historic moment. It has the potential to be a more impressive sight than Comet ISON’s inner-solar system trek later this year. But understanding the nature of comets is hard to predict; we won’t know if the sun’s heating will be sufficient enough for the comet nucleus to erupt and start out-gassing for some time to come. - Discovery

The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must

Exploring Mars: Chronicles from a Decade of Discovery