26 asteroids caused a nuclear-level explosion on Earth since 2000

Artistic concept of the WISE space telescope orbiting the Earth (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artistic concept of the WISE space telescope orbiting the Earth (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Earth Day is an event dedicated to the support of the defense of the environment. Rightly so, that makes us think about issues such as pollution but on the occasion of Earth Day 2014 there was also the presentation of the data collected between 2000 and 2013 about 26 large explosions in Earth’s atmosphere caused by asteroid disintegration.

The data were collected by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), an American group that includes several former NASA astronauts and calls for a ban on all nuclear tests. The organization operates a network of sensors that can detect explosions of nuclear weapons but in this beginning of the millennium has detected the explosions of asteroids in the atmosphere.

The power of the explosions detected by CTBTO goes from 1 to 600 kilotons. To get an idea of their power, keep in mind that the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima had a power of 15 kilotons. The Earth’s atmosphere represents a significant protection thanks to the fact that the enormous friction brings the meteorites at such temperatures that typically they disintegrate at an altitude high enough to avoid damage.



However, on February 15, 2013 a small asteroid exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, causing major damage and many wounded. This was one of the most powerful explosions among those recorded and the meteorite reached an altitude low enough to pose a big threat before disintegrating.

Yesterday’s presentation was made at the Seattle Museum of Flight by three former astronauts: Ed Lu, Tom Jones and Bill Anders. Ed Lu is also one of the founders of the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has exactly the goal to find ways to protect the Earth from asteroid impacts. Ed Lu was also one of the participants in a meeting at the UN on this issue in October 2013.

The B612 Foundation proposed the project of the Space Telescope infrared Sentinel, which should detect asteroids years before they reach the Earth. There are already a number of initiatives for the detection of asteroids by NASA and ESA. Building a new space telescope, which would be launched no earlier than 2018, only makes sense if’t is much better than existing instruments such as the WISE Space Telescope. However, these initiatives are important for the safety of a planet that is more and more populated so the possibility of danger are increasing.

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The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

The novel “The Apocalypse Codex” by Charles Stross was published for the first time in 2012. It won the Locus Award for the fantasy category. It’s part of the Laundry series and follows “The Fuller Memorandum“.

Bob Howard survived a series of more or less apocalyptic events while he was in the service of the Laundry. For this reason, he’s sent to a course of managemente and leadership needed for the type of work he’ll have to perform after he gets promoted within the organization.

In his new role, Bob has to investigate Raymond Schiller. a tele-evangelist the Laundry consider too interested in the British Prime Minister. He must act as a liaison between the organization and Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish, two external “consultants” who sometimes do the dirty work for the Laundry. When the three of them get stuck in the USA isolated from any help, as usual Bob must improvise to avoid the apocalypse.

For the previous novels in the series of the room, Charles Stross got inspired by the style of various writers. In “The Apocalypse Codex” it’s Peter O’Donnell’s style and in particular the source of inspiration is his heroine Modesty Blaise, who is the basis for the character of Persephone Hazard.

Initially, the novels of the series were narrated in the first person from the point of view of Bob Howard. “The Fuller Memorandum” already contained some parts narrated in the third person and in “The Apocalypse Codex” the change is even greater. These novels contain memories of the protagonist but this latest one is only partially that. Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish are in fact the co-protagonists and the parts of the story centered on them are narrated in the third person.

The various Laundry novels tell autonomous stories but are still part of a big story arc. Each new story contains references to the previous ones and new details about the Laundry and some characters such as Angleton are revealed. For this reason, the best choice is to read the whole series.

In “The Apocalypse Codex”, Bob Howard is a veteran of the Laundry, which means that he survived a series of magical attacks which sometimes included creatures from other worlds. His expertise in the field of computer science is helpful because in the fictional universe created by Charles Stross magic is an extension of the physical and mathematical sciences so spells can be written as computer programs.

Because of this pseudo-science vision of magic, I’ve always considered the Laundry series as science fiction although this novel won the Locus Award in the fantasy category. Just as in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, in this series you can see elements belonging to various genres so it can be considered a mix of them.

Bob Howard’s successes as a Laundry field agent haven’t gone unnoticed and as a result his career within the organization is advancing. For this reason, he got involved in activities related to magic would be proposed to join the Laundry. This is the kind of proposal that you can’t refuse but in “The Apocalypse Codex” Bob discovers that there are exceptions.

Persephone Hazard McTavish and Johnny are “external assets”, meaning they are two persons working in the world of magic but not part of the Laundry. That allows them to carry out non-official operations and the organization to be able to deny any connection with them, especially if there are negative consequences.

Bob Howard is appointed to act as liaison between the Laundry and the two “consultants” in the investigation of a tele-evangelist whose activities appear to be connected to magic. Needless to say, something goes very wrong and as a consequence the three of them end up being isolated in the USA and can only use their skills to save themselves and to prevent an apocalypse.

In “The Apocalypse Codex” the tone is rather dark, as in the previous novel. There are still funny moments with the geek references typical of this series. Those who work in the field of computer science can only admire the ​​Bob Howard’s idea to use an alien parasite to try a man-in-the-middle attack.

In my opinion, in “The Apocalypse Codex” Charles Stross has found an excellent balance between the dramatic moments and funny ones. In the earlier novels he tended to have more geek moments than dramatic ones and this could make the reading difficult at times. From this point of view, the quality of the stories is improved by making the reading more fluid, also thanks to a faster pace, and accessible to anyone who is not an IT system manager while retaining some geek elements.

“The Apocalypse Codex” also contains new information not only on the Laundry but also on its American equivalent, the Black Chamber. The story is set largely in the USA and that gives Charles Stross the opportunity to further explore the relationships between the two agencies. The fact that the threat is centered on a church that professes a variant of Christianity allows the author to do other considerations about religion, generally not exactly positive. Don’t say you didn’t get warned!

Personally, I find that the Laundry series gets better with each new novel. The quality semmed to me was already high in the past, “The Apocalypse Codex” in my opinion is really excellent and is absolutely a must-have for all the people who have read the previous novels.



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The LADEE space probe mission ended with its impact on the Moon

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) space probe during its test phase (Photo NASA)

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) space probe during its test phase (Photo NASA)

NASA has confirmed that the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) space probe concluded its mission, which began in September 2013, crashing on the dark side of the Moon. This is the normal end of this type of missions as the purpose is to avoid that a probe might become a space wreck with the risk of it being drawn back to the Earth’s orbit causing potential dangers.

The LADEE space probe reached lunar orbit in November 2013 and after 100 days concluded its primary mission, which aimed to study the Moon’s tenuous atmosphere. Thanks to the precision of the maneuvers carried out since its launch, it stille had an amount of propellant higher than expected, so the mission was extended by one month.

In the final phase of its mission, the LADEE probe was driven closer to the surface, to make its final measurements at an altitude of less than 2 km (about 1 mile). This made it possible to collect data that are unprecedented but even those have allowed, at least for now, to clarify the mystery of the Moon’s sunrise glow above the horizon noticed by astronauts during the Apollo missions.

On April 11, 2014, the LADEE spacecraft started the latest series of maneuvers that brought it in a trajectory towards the dark side of the Moon, far away from the sites of the Apollo Moon landings. The last descent led it to crash into the lunar surface at an hour estimated to be between 4.30 and 6:22 GMT on Friday April 18, 2014. The imprecision is due to the fact that at that time it wasn’t visible.

The LADEE spacecraft’s primary mission was scientific in nature but the budget of $280 million was spent for its experimental nature as well. It’s in fact a probe built using a new design system that follows certain standards that will also save a lot of money in the construction of future probes. Part of the budget was allocated to the Lunar Laser Communications Laser Com Demo (LLCD), a laser communication system that was tested with a great success.

The last test performed by the LADEE spacecraft was on the occasion of the lunar eclipse between april 14 and 15. LADEE survived the very low temperatures and the intensive use of the batteries due to lack of sunlight. It’s a confirmation of the high quality of its design, which is very useful to know exactly because in the future other space probes will be built to the same standards.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) space probe will try to locate the crater caused by the crash of LADEE. Above all, there’s a huge amount of data to be analyzed for a mission already considered a great success.



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Mission CRS-3: the Dragon spacecraft has reached the International Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft grappled by the International Space Station's robotic arm Canadarm2 (Image NASA TV)

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft grappled by the International Space Station’s robotic arm Canadarm2 (Image NASA TV)

The Dragon spacecraft has just been captured by the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Astronauts Koichi Wakata and Rick Mastracchio managed the operation and started moving the Dragon to the docking point of the Harmony module. The SpaceX spacecraft lifted off last Friday.

At the beginning of the maneuvers carried out by the Dragon spacecraft in its journey, a malfunction was discovered of some of Draco maneuvering thrusters. SpaceX mission control diagnosed a problem with isolation valves of the propulsion system, which was solved by switching to backup valves. This maneuver restored the functionality of all four thruster pods, two of which contain five Draco thrusters and two contain four for a total of 18 thrusters.

A precise analysis of the problem will be made at the return of the Dragon spacecraft to Earth but it seems to be different from that which threatened to cripple the previous mission, the SRC-2 or SPX-2, carried out in March 2013. In that case, the problem was in the valve of the propellant pressurization system.

Last year, it took a while to solve the problem, causing a delay in the arrival of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. This time, it was possible to start the mission operations with only a short delay. Consequently, the Dragon started on schedule the series of the slow approach maneuvers to the Station.

The approach procedure of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station is long and delicate for security reasons. Every little step is checked and only if all goes well in the Dragon’s position and velocity they proceed with the next step. However, it’s a procedure already tested by the Dragon spacecraft in its previous missions.

Tomorrow, the astronauts on the International Space Station are scheduled to open the Dragon spacecraft’s hatch and start unloading everything that was brought into orbit. Subsequently, a series of experiments and other items to be brought back to Earth will be loaded on the Dragon, the only cargo spacecraft able to return to Earth intact.

The Dragon is scheduled to leave the International Space Station on May 18, 2014, with a total cargo of around 1,600 kg (about 3,500 pounds). The CRS-3 mission will be completed with its descent into the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California.



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The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft blasted off for its CRS-3 mission for NASA

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket (Image NASA TV)

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket (Image NASA TV)

A few hours ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft blasted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in its CRS-3 (Cargo Resupply Service 3) mission, also known as SPX-3. This is the third of 12 missions that include the sending of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station with various cargos and then return to Earth, again with various cargos.

It’s normal for these missions to be delayed for various reasons but the CRS-3 was supposed to start last year. A series of problems on the International Space Station and recently a failure in a U.S. Air Force radar system needed to mission control moved this launch ahead several months. There was the risk of a new delay following the failure of a backup computer on the Station but at NASA mission control they assessed the risk as minimal and gave the OK to the launch.

Meanwhile, compared to the previous mission, the Falcon 9 rocket has been changed a lot so this time they used the 1.1 version already tested last year. For this occasion, the first stage has been equipped with special carbon fiber legs to try a controlled landing. The purpose is to be able to have a soft splash down without damage, so that it can be recycled.

The technology for the controlled descent of the first stage is experimental so the expectations were pretty low but SpaceX announced that the descent into the Atlantic Ocean was successful. Obviously they’ll have to assess the conditions of the first stage but it’s a big step forward.

The Dragon spacecraft is carrying a heavy cargo, a total of around 2.4 tonnes (about 5,000 pounds) between the pressurized and non-pressurized ones. Among the many devices, there is the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS), one of the experimental instruments for communications via high-speed laser, in this case between the ISS and the ground stations. There’s also the High Definition Viewing Earth (HDEV) package, which consists of four HD cameras to be tested in the space environment for shooting of the Earth from various angles. A particular electronic component is a pair of legs for Robonaut 2, an android in the testing phase on the Station that didn’t have them yet.

The cargo of the Dragon spacecraft also includes scientific experiments such as the Veg-01 or Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE), which aims to experiment the growth of lettuce on the International Space Station under LED light. Another biological experiment aims to investigate the causes of depression of the immune system with age and in microgravity.

As a secondary cargo there are some CubeSat satellites. One of them, KickSat, was produced through a crowdfunding campaign and has the aim of launching femtosatellites, which are satellites slightly larger than a postage stamp. The CubeSats were deployed regularly and the KickSat started the deployment of no less than 104 femtosatellites called Sprites.

The Dragon spacecraft is en route to the International Space Station and everything proceeds normally. The arrival is scheduled for tomorrow with the berthing on the Harmony node.



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The NBA playoffs 2014 are starting



Tomorrow, Saturday, April 19, 2014 the NBA playoffs 2014 are starting. The end of the regular season is always a little complicated because there are teams who are looking to rest their stars, others that need to win their playoffs berth and still others just waiting for the end of the season to think about the next one. For the first time in the NBA history the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks have all failed to reach the playoffs. This year the injury situation was quite complicated for some of the likely protagonists of the post-season with consequent ups and downs.

Let’s have a look at the teams with the best playoffs positions in the two conferences.

Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers

After the All-Star Game, the Indiana Pacers had ups and downs and give the impression that within the team there’s some problem. Nevertheless, they got the top seed in the Eastern Conference, proving to have a really huge potential. They should win without big problems the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, another team that has a high potential but is been disappointing for years. The Pacers, however, are under pressure and in the later rounds, probably against the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, will have to play better to win, otherwise for them the season will be a disappointment.

Miami Heat

For the reigning NBA champions starting the playoffs with the no. 2 seed might seem like a disappointment. However, the players know exactly what they need to do to win so I think they’re still the team to beat. In the first round they should easily defeat the Charlotte Bobcats, who finally showed signs of life and have already achieved a great result, in the later rounds we’ll see if the Heat are really ready to win their third straight title.

Toronto Raptors

The surprising Toronto Raptors won the no. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs but will have to face in the first round the Brooklyn Nets, a team that had many ups and downs during this season but with several veteran players who have great experience in the playoffs. In my opinion the Nets will win the series and try to make the surprise beating the Miami Heat as well, an almost impossible mission.

Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose has played very few games before surrendering to another unlucky season but the Chicago Bulls are a team that fights to the end. I think they’ll win the first round against the Washington Wizards but they should hope for a suicide by the Indiana Pacers to go further.

Western Conference

San Antonio Spurs

Once again, the San Antonio Spurs have played a great regular season, showing they have the best system. However, last year they were lucky because in the Western Conference playoffs they faced opponents who were missing important players. This year they might have to work hard since the first round against the Dallas Mavericks, another team with several veterans. They’ll probably win but already in the conference semifinals they’ll face an athletic team and there could be a surprise.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The key to the Oklahoma City Thunder is the players’ shape. They had some important injuries, now we must see if the players who just got back are ready for the playoffs. The first round won’t be easy against the Memphis Grizzlies but if they don’t reach at least the NBA Finals their season will be disappointing.

Los Angeles Clippers

After one season of improvements, the Los Angeles Clippers need to play the first round against the Golden State Warriors, the surprise of the last year’s playoffs. In the regular season, the games between these two teams were very balanced but the playoffs are a different thing. The Clippers have the home court advantage and the Warriors won’t have Bogut, injured. In my opinion it will still be a long series and there might be a surprise.

Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets have improved with the arrival of Dwight Howard but they have to play a first round that’s not easy against the surprising Portland Trail Blazers. For the Rockets it’s the moment of truth because the team is ambitious. If they were to go out in the first round it would be a big disappointment. If they could find the right confidence, in my opinion they could even beat the San Antonio Spurs and get to the conference finals.

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