sexta-feira, 21 de novembro de 2014

UFO? Meteorite? Mystery Orange Glow Lights Up Russian Night Sky

This is the mysterious moment that a huge orange flash illuminated the night sky in a remote area of Russia - and no-one knows what caused it.

An explosion was captured by a driver with a dashboard mounted camera as he was cruising along a quiet stretch of motorway near Sverdlovsk in the mountainous Urals region of Russia.

The video, taken on November 14, shows a ball of orange light which rapidly expands to illuminate the entire road, turning the dead of night into the middle of the day for around ten seconds.

Expert opinion is divided on what actually caused the flash.


segunda-feira, 10 de novembro de 2014

Michigan-bred Jesuit is a Vatican astronomer and meteorite nerd

Brother Guy Consolmagno, who grew up in the Detroit area, curates the Vatican's meteorite collection at the Vatican Observatory located at the pope's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy.

Men of faith have always looked to the heavens.

Tonight, a metro Detroit-bred Vatican astronomer, on the roof of the pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, will gaze up at the sky to contemplate God - and science.

Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, a self-professed meteorite nerd, is one of 12 astronomers for the Vatican who will join stargazers around the world hoping to witness the annual Geminids meteor shower.

It's a job that's heaven-sent, said Consolmagno, who graduated from Birmingham Our Lady Queen of Martyrs grade school and University of Detroit Jesuit High School.

"Today, I would say that one of our most important missions ... is to reassure religious people that science is not a threat to their faith, but rather a great support, " Consolmagno said. "That by appreciating God's creation, we come closer to the Creator."

Consolmagno, 61, spends his time "working in the laboratory, playing with rocks that fall from outer space, giving talks around the world. I've even had a chance to go to Antarctica and look for meteorites."

"It's been a fantastic life."

He works in Italy about eight months and travels four months every year to give lectures and do research at a Vatican observatory based in Arizona.

Astronomers say the Geminid meteor showers can be the most vivid of meteor showers, with as many as 100 to 120 bright, blazing balls visible from any point on Earth. The Geminids, which continue through the middle of next week, peak tonight into Saturday morning.

Consolmagno said Jesuits have been studying the stars in the service of popes dating to the 1500s, charting the skies to help create an accurate calendar. But the Vatican also has been at war with astronomers, and Pope John Paul II apologized in 1992 for the centuries-old condemnation and imprisonment of Galileo for arguing that the Earth orbits the sun.

"Too many people with their own agendas want to build a wall between science and faith and demonize the one or the other, " Consolmagno said, "but that is bad for both science and faith."

Back in Michigan

When Consolmagno comes back to Michigan and visits longtime friends, family or Jesuits, he doesn't go looking for meteorites.

"There aren't many ... found in Michigan, " he said, "because it's hard to spot them among all the other odd rocks that the glaciers brought us."

Yet, Michigan meteorites are part of the Vatican's collection. The Vatican has four pieces of the meteorite Allegan, which fell over the western Michigan county on July 10, 1899, and four pieces of the Grand Rapids iron meteorite from 1883.

Some of the meteorites that are on display at the Cranbrook Institute of Science are on loan from the Vatican, courtesy of the onetime curious Birmingham kid who rode his bike to attend summer and weekend workshops there.

"It's my way of saying thanks for programs as a kid, " Consolmagno said of Cranbrook. "We went fossil hunting. There was a guy doing bird-tagging. Mostly, I remember the planetarium. It did everything you want a kid to do to keep him focused."

The meteorites on loan to Cranbrook include a piece of the Allegan, one from Mars that landed in north Africa, and one that landed in Germany.

Consolmagno has lectured at Cranbrook and stops in just to chat when he is in the area.

"He's an awesome guy, " said Cranbrook Institute's head astronomer, Mike Narlock. "He's incredibly personal. And he can take complex thoughts and ideas and bring them down to a basic level. He's a fantastic ambassador for both science and religion, as far as I am concerned."

'A space nut'

Consolmagno grew up the youngest of three siblings in Harper Woods and Birmingham. His dad, Joseph, was director of press relations at Chrysler. His mom, Patricia, worked as a teacher. Both live in Florida now. His brother is a musician in Marquette, and his sister is a retired grade school teacher in New Jersey.

"Sputnik went up the year I started kindergarten, and we landed on the moon when I was a senior in high school, " Consolmagno said, "so I grew up a space nut."

Just out of U-D High, Consolmagno worked at the Lapeer County Press, when its top editor was the late Free Press columnist Jim Fitzgerald. Consolmagno thought he'd become a journalist.

But after a year at Boston College, his love of science and science fiction led him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - "because it had the world's largest collection of science fiction" - where he received both bachelor's and master's degrees in earth and planetary sciences

He received a doctorate from the University of Arizona and returned to MIT for postdoctoral work. Tormented by thoughts that he should be doing something more meaningful than astronomy, Consolmagno joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Kenya. He was asked to teach astronomy classes in Nairobi, but he also took his telescopes to villages and delighted in rural Kenyans' reactions to seeing craters on the moon.

"These are the things that make us human, and if you deny that to someone, " Consolmagno said, "you are denying them their humanity."

After further stints as a college educator, he took vows as Jesuit brother in 1991. Consolmagno speaks Italian fluently. He learned German in high school and also has mastered Latin and Greek. He learned Swahili in the Peace Corps.

In the spotlight

Consolmagno's good-natured astronomical firepower has been featured on TV's "The Colbert Report." In 2009, he explained why the Vatican accepts the possibility of alien life. He has lunched, at their request, with William Shatner of "Star Trek" fame and the coproducer of "The Big Bang Theory, " fellow Michigan native Bill Prady. He also is the author of several books.

The Vatican's collection of meteorites comes from donations and a few items that Consolmagno has retrieved himself. He once camped for six weeks on Antarctic ice to look for meteorite remnants. It's one of the easiest places to look for meteorites because they stand out on the white surface.

Consolmagno helped welcome Pope Francis to the astronomy lab in July. He showed now-retired Pope Benedict what a sliver of a meteorite that fell near Benedict's German hometown looks like under a microscope. The late Pope John Paul II would invited the astronomers to mass.

One of Consolmagno's fondest Michigan memories is playing cards with his mom at a family cottage on Lake Huron. It wasn't who lost or won, but it was his mom's way of "telling me she loved me."

"Science is God's way of showing that he loves us. It's His way of playing with us, " Consolmagno said. "It's a way that we can engage the Creator. And every scientific puzzle is a game that He's set up. Every time I get it - I can hear Him cheering and go, 'Yeah, OK, let me show you the next one.'"


quinta-feira, 6 de novembro de 2014

Rare Mineral Discovered in Ancient Meteorite Impact Crater

A rare mineral known from just three massive meteorite impacts has now turned up in a Wisconsin crater.

Researchers discovered the mineral, called reidite, at the Rock Elm impact structure in western Wisconsin. Reidite is a dense form of zircon, one of the hardiest minerals on Earth.

This is the oldest reidite ever found,, said Aaron Cavosie, a geochemist at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez. The Rock Elm meteorite crater is 450 million to 470 million years old, he said.

Scientists first discovered the unusual high-pressure zircon in a laboratory in the 1960s. Reidite was finally identified in nature starting in 2001, at three impact sites: the Chesapeake Bay Crater in Virginia, Ries Crater in Germany and Xiuyan Crater in China.

The reidite was an utterly unexpected find for Cavosie, who was collecting zircons to establish a more precise impact age for the Rock Elm crater. "No one in their right mind would have looked for reidite in sandstone," he told Live Science. The Rock Elm crater was gouged out of carbonate rocks and sandstone that contains tiny fragments of quartz and zircon. The earlier reidite discoveries were all in impact melt breccias — a mix of rock that melted and cooled into glass during the impact and unmelted rock fragments.

"I work with the oldest zircons on Earth, and reidite is so much rarer than 4.4-billion-year-old zircons," said Cavosie, who presented the results of the research Oct. 22 at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Zircon morphs into reidite when shock waves from meteorite impacts hike up pressures and temperatures to extreme levels, equal to those deep inside the Earth where diamonds form. The pressure makes minerals tightly repack their molecules into denser crystal structures. Reidite has the same composition as regular zircon but is about 10 percent denser.

The specks of reidite Cavosie spotted are smaller than the diameter of a human hair and are scattered within "shocked" zircons that were fractured during the Rock Elm impact. But each mineral reflects light differently, which caught Cavosie's eye as he examined slices of rock under a powerful microscope. Working with colleagues in Australia, Cavosie confirmed the presence of reidite by zapping the tiny zircons with electrons. Every mineral scatters electrons in a unique way, and the tests confirmed the presence of reidite, Cavosie announced in Vancouver.

"This is a cool find in the realm of high-pressure metamorphism," Cavosie said.

It takes incredible pressure to transform zircon into reidite, so the mineral's presence means the Rock Elm crater underwent much higher shock pressures than originally thought, Cavosie said. The transition to reidite takes place anywhere between 30 and 80 gigapascals. Earlier pressure estimates from the crater's shocked quartz topped out at 10 gigapascals, according to previous studies.

Any impact crater carved from sandstone will also have zircon, and Cavosie now thinks reidite is likely more common than scientists previously thought. "It's now time to look for it where we never would have anticipated finding it," he said.


terça-feira, 4 de novembro de 2014

1,000 times stronger than Chelyabinsk meteorite: New asteroid may threaten Earth

Moscow University’s robotic telescope has discovered a massive asteroid that could potentially hit Earth in the future. If such a collision happens, the explosion would be 1,000 more powerful the Chelyabinsk meteorite explosion in 2013.

An automatic telescope installed in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains, near the city of Kislovodsk, first spotted the newly discovered space rock, dubbed 2014 UR116. The asteroid is estimated to be 370 meters in diameter, which is bigger than the size of the notorious Apophis asteroid.

Once Russian astronomers saw the new space object, they passed the data to colleagues at the Minor Planet Center of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. That means many observatories around the world closely scrutinized 2014 UR116, which helped to calculate the object’s preliminary orbit.

2014 UR116’s orbit is fluctuating because it also passes close to Venus and Mars, and the gravitational pull of these planets can also influence the asteroid’s trajectory.

When a meteorite exploded in the skies above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, the energy of the explosion was estimated to be equivalent to 300-500 kilotons of TNT. But the Chelyabinsk meteorite was relatively small, about 17 meters in diameter and it disintegrated with a blast at an altitude of over 20 kilometers.

The newly discovered 2014 UR116 is much bigger and its collision with our planet would be catastrophic, as its impact power would be 1,000 times stronger than of the Chelyabinsk meteorite, Scientific Russia journal pointed out.

But the good news is that the asteroid poses no threat to Earth for at least the next six years, Victor Shor, research associate at the Institute of Applied Astronomy told the Interfax news agency.

At the moment the closest part of 2014 UR116’s orbit is 4.5 million kilometers from Earth. But this will change, so scientists are going to have to keep an eye on 2014 UR116 for years to come.

The robotic telescope network that discovered 2014 UR116 is called MASTER. It belongs to Moscow State University and was created in close cooperation with Russian universities in Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Blagoveschensk, the Kislovodsk station of Pulkovo Observatory and help from the National University of San Juan, Argentina.

MASTER has already snagged two other potentially dangerous asteroids: 2013 SW24 and 2013 UG1, but they were smaller than 2014 UR116, ‘only’ 250 and 125 meters respectively.

The video showing the movement of 2014 UR116 is made up of a number of photos taken by the MASTER robotic telescope, with several minutes interval between each one.


segunda-feira, 3 de novembro de 2014

Chinese rich pay sky-high for meteorite pieces

URUMQI) One small cheque to a businessman, one giant leap for a meteorite: after journeys of millions of kilometres, rocks formed from the primordial soup of the solar system have landed on the walls of a Chinese showroom.

For some of China's wealthy, the terrestrial trappings of fast cars, designer bags and deluxe apartments are worthless compared to bounty from outer space.

Tong Xianping is among the Chinese entrepreneurs paying astronomic prices and making an impact in one of the world's more arcane markets.

He spent a million yuan (S$209,800) on a chunk of the iron-packed Seymchan, pieces of which were first found in a Russian riverbed in 1967, and believed to be billions of years old.

"It was worth it," said Tong, 50, admiring the 176 kilogram mass, which calls to mind an inflated lump of coal. "They are news from space."

Tong keeps dozens of specimens under spotlights at his exhibition space in Urumqi, the capital of China's far-western Xinjiang region.

They include a knobbly brown rock that was part of Gibeon, a meteorite which crashed in prehistoric southern Africa. It also cost around a million yuan, Tong adds.

From a safe, he pulled out carbonaceous chondrites he scooped from the sands himself – ancient chunks resembling the nebula which produced the planets of the solar system.

"These are very complete fragments, and hard to find," he said.

Flashy purchases have made China's newly wealthy – often politically-connected businessmen – a subject of envy and ridicule.

"Company founders and bosses like big meteorites," said Tong, who made his money dealing in jade.

In close orbit of the safe lounged two fellow collectors, sipping a luxury brand of green tea.

"If there are good meteorites, rare ones, I'm willing to spend a lot," said one of the pair, an executive surnamed Liu, whose firm has won construction contracts on Urumqi's first subway line.

Tong is happy to be called a nouveau riche, he says, although he dismissed earthly possessions: "Cars are manufactured, but there can only be one of each meteorite."


Scholars study the rocks for clues to the origins of the solar system, and some believe they seeded Earth with organic molecules that enabled life to form.

Tong's own passion for interplanetary matter is facilitated by a global market with roots in remote deserts and polar regions, where the bodies are most easily spotted.

Top specimens fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, but unlike palaeontologists and archaeologists who decry looting on their sites, experts in the field welcome the trade.

"We have a co-operative relationship with the collectors," said Monica Grady, a leading meteorite scientist at Britain's Open University. "We can't afford to go out and collect, but this small army of dealers will do it."

Finders depend on academics to accredit the specimens so that they have value on the market, while at the same time the scientists keep a chunk for themselves, she added.

But the wave of Chinese buyers has sent prices skyward and raised fears of forgeries among some veteran collectors.

"They are just interested in how much they are worth, they don't understand the science behind them," said Bryan Lee, a Chinese civil servant who scopes out specimens at the world's largest meteorite trade show, in the US desert city of Tuscon.

"It's led to an increase in fakes," he added.

Overseas commentators echoed his concerns.

"Chinese buyers like big specimens and their presence in the high end market has been noticeable," said Eric Twelker, columnist for the US-based Meteorite Times.

But he added: "Most submissions from China are mistaken or fraudulent. This has been going on for a number of years and I am wary of anything from China."


Tong, who stands almost two metres tall and has a fondness for imported '555' brand cigarettes, frequently ventures into China's vast Taklamakan desert in search of manna from heaven.

The world's second-largest expanse of shifting sands, the Taklamakan is known to insiders for the 1,000-kilogram Fukang meteorite discovered in 2000, which resembles a honeycomb in gold and silver when cut open – and is valued at millions of dollars. Tong owns a slice.

Aside from a brutal climate, Tong – who scoots around in a dune buggy – also has to contend with packs of wolves and hordes of aggressive insects.

"The ants came at us like a flood," he said of one incident. "They can eat a whole sausage in two minutes.

"I often come across snakes and poisonous spiders, but I love it.

"It's about doing what you want, and being far away from the world," he added. "The mysteries of the universe are endless, that's why we're interested in meteorites."


sábado, 1 de novembro de 2014

Mingle with meteorites at Cincinnati Observatory

As long as it didn’t hit you, wouldn’t it be amazing if a rock from outer space landed in your backyard? Imagine the odds. The luck. You’d be rich, right?

Frequently, people bring interesting rocks to the Cincinnati Observatory in the hopes that they have discovered a meteorite. Unfortunately, every one of them has been a plain, old Earth rock: a meteor-wrong.

Meteorites fall to Earth daily, but finding a large one is extremely rare. Only about a dozen large meteorite falls have been verified in Ohio, ever.

What to look for

The easiest meteorites to find are magnetic. Although there are naturally magnetic Earth rocks, finding a rock that sticks to a magnet is a good start. Magnetic meteorites formed in the centers of large asteroids that shattered, orbited the Sun for eons and slammed into the Earth.

Meteorites are almost always dark in color. This black fusion crust developed during the brief, fiery moments when the rock plunged through the Earth’s atmosphere. When this happens, we call that streak of light a shooting star.

Large meteorites can have pits in them that look like thumbprints. Called regmaglypts, they formed on the space rocks as they plummeted through the atmosphere as well.

You probably won’t get rich finding meteorites in Ohio (we have some in our gift shop for as little as $5), but on Saturday at the Observatory you’ll have a chance to hold meteorites from around the world. You can even see most of those that fell in Ohio since the beginning of time. ■

Dean Regas is the outreach astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory and co-host of PBS’ “Star Gazers.” He can be reached at

If you go

What: Meet a Meteorite: Gathering the best meteorite collections in the Tristate for the public to explore, touch and buy – including pieces of the moon and Mars; plus, viewing of the moon through the old telescope (if clear)

When: 7-10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Cincinnati Observatory, 3489 Observatory Place, Mt. Lookout

Admission: $10 adult, $5 student; no reservations needed

Information: www.cincinnatiobserv


Mike Madden of Honley finds 'meteorite' in garden

The unexpected has often happened to Mike Warren-Madden over the years.

He invented a bird feeding table that fitted on his head and was attacked by a squirrel when he wore it whilst out for a walk in the wood and was knocked to the ground. He should have been wearing his bubble-wrap suit.

That was another creation from the Honley man with an outsize sense of fun and a talent for lateral thinking. A suit made from bubble-wrap was perfect for someone with a poor sense of balance or had a tendency to fall over when he left the pub.

He made a bid to have the Royal Yacht Brittania put on the River Holme as a tourist attraction and suggested Buckingham Palace would be perfect for time share apartments to make a bit of extra spending money for the Queen.

He’s a champion tripe eater and snorer who has appeared on Comic Relief in Britain and comedy programmes in Germany where they have a strange sense of humour.

And who can ever forget when he turned his garden at Crackpot Cottage into a sanctuary for garden gnomes?

Anyway, the unexpected happened again this week.

“Do you remember when I wrote off to the Space Centre at Cape Canaveral?”

And yes, he did. He asked for a piece of moon rock for a charity auction and they sent him an application form to become an astronaut. I’m surprised he didn’t make the programme and go on to pick his rocks from the moon.

“Well, blow me down,” he says, “I was unlocking the door the other night when I heard a faint thud in the garden. Looking round, I didn’t see anything, so I took me’sen to bed.

“The next morning I was tucking into my porridge when I looked out of the French windows to see Fatty, our cat, sniffing at something in the lawn.

“I went out to take a peep and found it was a lump of rock embedded in the garden. It’s rock-like with smaller stones melted into it. I think it fell out of the sky and just missed my napper, so I have ended up with my space rock after all. Unless a neighbour chucked it at me to try and tell me something.

“I’d love some expert to have to look.”

Does Mike finally have his piece of moon rock?