Space: NASA plans 2016 asteroid mission

Long-range goal includes planning missions to redirect potentially dangerous asteroids in near-Earth orbit


A NASA satellite image shows an asteroid pockmarked with craters.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — NASA may not be flying any shuttle missions in the immediate future, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. space agency has stopped working. Research continues on deep space exploration, including a potential manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Another important focus is the idea of being able to capture a near-Earth asteroid and put it into a stable orbit around the moon. The planning is beyond the science fiction stage, with engineers working on ion and electric-solar propulsion systems that could be used to reach, and then move, an asteroid.

As a first step, NASA is already planning to launch an asteroid sampling mission in 2016. OSIRIS-REx already has a target in mind — a 2018 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu in 2018, bringing samples back to Earth in 2023. Continue reading

Evolution: Throwing skills unique to humans


There’s more to a fastball than meets the eye. bberwyn photo.

Study says ability to throw hard and fast helped spur human evolution

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — If you’re a baseball fan, then you already knew that Nolan Ryan throwing a fastball is poetry in motion.

It turns out that the hard-throwing right-hander’s skill is the culmination of millions of years of evolution of a trait that was critical to the survival and success of our early human ancestors.

According to a new Harvard study featured on the cover of Nature, humans are unique among all animals in our ability to throw projectiles at high speeds and with incredible accuracy. Continue reading

Travel: UNESCO names new World Heritage sites

Fiji and Qatar get first-ever designation; Mt. Fuji, Mt. Etna also added


Fujisan is one of the newest World Heritage sites. Photo courtesy UNESCO and Policy Planning Office, Minobu Town.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The fact that the world’s cultural and natural heritage transcends national boundaries is perhaps best reflected each year when UNESCO designates new World Heritage sites, and this year was no exception.

At its recent meeting in Cambodia, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added volcanoes in Asia and Europe, historic forts in Ukraine and Qatar and a Basque whaling station in Canada.

There was one new area added in North America — El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, with its distinctive dormant volcanic Pinacate Shield of black and red lava flows and desert pavements to the east, and, in the west, the Gran Altar Desert with its ever changing and varied sand dunes that can reach a height of 200 meters. Continue reading

Sen. Udall keeps pushing for release of torture report

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO).

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO).

Vice President Joe Biden says secret congressional report should be released

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — While many Americans may have a vague idea of some of the atrocities committed against prisoners and detainees in the war on terror, Congress knows much more, and most of the information is included in a still-secret report compiled by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Along with a few allies, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) has been pushing the Obama administration to declassify the report and to make it public, and Udall said recent remarks from Vice President Joe Biden are encouraging.

In a policy forum with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, Biden said very clearly that the report should be made public, and McCain left no doubt that the United States violated international law and broke treaty commitments when the CIA and its private contractors tortured detainees. You can watch the discussion on YouTube (the discussion starts at minute 40). Continue reading

Dinosaur-killing asteroid triggered a global firestorm

Chicxulub crater NASA earth observatory

The Chicxulub Crater on the Yucatan Peninusla, where an asteroid impact 66 million years ago led to the extinction of most life on Earth. Learn more at this NASA Earth Observatory website.

CU Boulder study suggests fallout from collision super-heated the sky to broil the Earth’s surface

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A giant asteroid that rammed Earth and killed of the dinosaurs may have broiled the entire surface of the planet by super-heating the atmosphere, according to a new study by CU Boulder scientists.

Using computer models to simulate the collision, the researchers with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences said the blast vaporized huge amounts of rock that were blown high above Earth’s atmosphere.

The re-entering  material would have heated the upper atmosphere enough to glow red for several hours at roughly 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit — about the temperature of an oven broiler element and hot enough to trigger a global firestorm that would have burned every twig, bush and tree on Earth, killing any organism not sheltered underground or underwater. Continue reading

Newly discovered magma layer may help answer some long-standing questions about plate tectonics


Research off the coast of Nicaragua led researchers to discover a previously unknown layer of magma that may help explain tectonic movements in the Earth’s crust and mantle.

Findings could lead to better understanding of earthquake dynamics

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — While the observation-based scientific understanding of plate tectonics is well advanced, researchers have long debated the exact mechanics that drive the movement of the Earth’s crust.

New findings based on research conducted off the Nicaragua coastline may help answer some of those questions, as scientists say they’ve discovered a layer of liquified molten rock in Earth’s mantle that may be responsible for the sliding motions of the planet’s massive tectonic plates. Continue reading

U.S. Geological Survey study eyes growing earthquake toll


Structural damage in San Francisco resulting from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo courtesy USGS.

Increasing population in seismically active areas means death toll could double in 21st century

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Growing populations in earthquake-prone areas are setting the stage for an uptick in catastrophic quakes in the 21st century, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists who evaluated historical earthquake data back to about 1500 AD against projected population increases.

Based on the data, the researchers concluded that there will be more individual earthquakes with very large death tolls as well as more people dying during earthquakes than ever before.

The study projects that about 21 catastrophic earthquakes will occur in the 21st century, triple the number during the 20th century. They also predict that total deaths in the century could more than double to approximately 3.5 million people if world population grows to 10.1 billion by 2100 from 6.1 billion in 2000. Continue reading


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