New discussion follows release of plans for a project to redirect the course of a small asteroid.
I have noted in previous posts, President Trump’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is returning to its original mission: Focusing on space exploration and research.
In the past month, the agency released plans for an ambitious project related to Earth’s protection from asteroid strikes.
On Friday, the space agency announced plans to redirect the course of a small asteroid approaching Earth, as part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), according to a NASA press release.
The release notes that asteroids hit Earth nearly every day, but most are small enough to burn up in the atmosphere.
But the DART project — a joint effort between NASA and the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland — is for the asteroids that are too big to break up — those that could have severe consequences for the Earth if they hit.
In October 2022, as an asteroid named Didymos makes a near Earth approach, NASA will launch a refrigerator-sized spacecraft to collide with the space object as the first real test of this system. As I have detailed in an analysis of Extinction Level Events, asteroids have a nasty tendency to cause substantial and real global climate change.
However, asteroids are not the only global threat we face. In recent years, much research has been conducted on supervolcanoes such as Yellowstone, and there is a more robust appreciation of the havoc that their eruptions cause at both the regional and global scale.
In a very ambitious move, NASA is now targeting these geologic objects. Recently, a group of NASA researchers shared a report previously unseen outside the space agency about the threat posed by supervolcanoes and how to potentially prevent catastrophic eruptions.
…“I was a member of the Nasa Advisory Council on Planetary Defense which studied ways for Nasa to defend the planet from asteroids and comets,” explains Brian Wilcox of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology. “I came to the conclusion during that study that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat.”
When Nasa scientists came to consider the problem, they found that the most logical solution could simply be to cool a supervolcano down. A volcano the size of Yellowstone is essentially a gigantic heat generator, equivalent to six industrial power plants. Yellowstone currently leaks about 60-70% of the heat coming up from below into the atmosphere, via water which seeps into the magma chamber through cracks. The remainder builds up inside the magma, enabling it to dissolve more and more volatile gases and surrounding rocks. Once this heat reaches a certain threshold, then an explosive eruption is inevitable.
I have one quibble with the approach. The Earth’s molten core generates a magnetic field that protects the planet from the solar winds and coronal mass ejections that could readily wipe away the atmosphere. Needless to say, an unintended consequence of too much magma cooling would be an epic level of climate change.
However, it is good to see the agency chart a new course away from social justice activism. I will look forward to the 2022 test for the asteroid project and pray that the Long Valley supervolcano complex close to my home stays quiet for awhile!DONATE
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