First death by a meteorite, NASA’s defense against killer rocks and SpaceX new launch date

160120-asteroid-1240x930Killed by a meteorite? Indian bus driver V. Kamaraj’s death may be a first documented case

Death by meteorite is a common theme in science-fiction movies, but in real life, the chances of being done in by a falling space rock are virtually nil. That’s what makes the reports about the death of Indian bus driver V. Kamaraj in an apparent meteorite strike so remarkable.

First, the reports: NDTV quotes officials as saying that a blast at Bharathidasan Engineering College, in Natrampalli in India’s Tamil Nadu state, killed Kamaraj and injured three others on Saturday at Bharathidasan Engineering College. A 2-foot-deep crater was left in the ground, and the shock wave shattered windshields and window panes around the site.

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NASA’s front-line defense against killer rocks from space

There are an enormous number—on the order of billions—of objects between Mars and Jupiter, that sometimes get “nudged” out of their usual path and come rocketing into the inner solar system. When they do, they officially become the Jet Propulsion Lab’s problem: Congress has tasked the group with finding all the near-Earth asteroids with a diameter of more than one kilometer.

Trouble is, it would only take an impact of something with a diameter of about 50 meters to level a city. For context, the asteroid that gave the Russian city of Chelyabinsk so much trouble didn’t even hit the ground (it exploded at about 97,000 feet in the air, with a force “20 to 30 times greater than that of the nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima”).

Asteroid impacts, even those much smaller than the 10 kilometer dino killer that hit the Yucatan peninsula 66 million years ago, have fundamentally altered the history of life on Earth. In addition to being crazy portents of doom, they have brought organic material and maybe even water to the Earth’s surface.

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SpaceX sets launch date for later this month, sea landing likely

24464810415_c2c5eb62e0_k-640x427SpaceX will make its next launch attempt on February 24th when it attempts to put a SES-9 satellite into orbit 35,000km above the equator. The Luxembourg based-owner of the satellite announced the launch date on a Falcon 9 rocket Monday. It did not provide a launch window.

Because the rocket will expend nearly all of its fuel to reach this higher orbit, it will not have enough left to return to a landing site on the Florida coast as a similar launch did in December. Therefore SpaceX is expected to attempt a fourth sea-based landing on an autonomous drone ship.

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