There are plenty of rocks floating around the solar system, but Apophis has attracted more than its share of attention due to several projected close shaves with Earth in the coming decades. While most impacts have now been ruled out, a previously-overlooked factor has opened a small window for a possible collision in 2068.
Discovered in 2004, Apophis measures about 370 m (1,215 ft) wide, which is big enough to cause some serious damage if it were to collide with Earth. And that’s why it grabbed headlines soon after its discovery – calculations of its future orbit gave it the highest chance of colliding with Earth of any asteroid discovered up to that point.
The rock had a one in 300 chance of striking Earth in 2029, making it the first object to reach level 2 on the Torino Scale, which measures the likelihood and damage potential of space objects on a scale of zero to 10. Later it was briefly upgraded to level 4 – a record it still holds today – with the odds shortening to just 1 in 60.
As they usually do, further observations ruled out a collision in 2029, as well as during its next close encounter in 2036 and another in 2068. But now, a new study suggests that astronomers may need to reexamine their calculations for that lattermost date.
Davide Fanocchia of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Dave Tholen of the University of Hawaii claim to have detected a force known as the Yarkovsky effect acting on Apophis, which could change its orbit ever so slightly.
As an object orbits the Sun and rotates, its surface is heated and cooled. The thermal photons involved do carry momentum, so the changes in heat can slowly but surely nudge an object’s orbit. While it might take millions of years to see any major change in its path, asteroids have the luxury of time.
New observations of the asteroid using the Subaru Telescope earlier this year detected the Yarkovsky effect in action on Apophis. This hasn’t been factored into earlier estimations of its orbit.
“The new observations we obtained with the Subaru telescope earlier this year were good enough to reveal the Yarkovsky acceleration of Apophis, and they show that the asteroid is drifting away from a purely gravitational orbit by about 170 m (560 ft) per year, which is enough to keep the 2068 impact scenario in play,” says Tholen.
That doesn’t mean Apophis will hit Earth in 2068 – in fact, it doesn’t even necessarily mean the chances are higher. All it means is that our current projections of its orbit need to be revisited. Further calculations will be done to figure out how strong the Yarkovsky effect might be on the asteroid, as well as how it might affect its orbit.
Either way, Apophis will still be an attention-seeker for the next few decades. Its 2029 close approach will be the closest for an asteroid of its size in recorded history, passing within one-tenth the distance to the Moon. That’s closer than some of our satellites, and it will actually be visible to the naked eye in some parts of the world.
The new study was presented at the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in October.
Source: University of Hawaii
Saturn’s moons explain the planet’s tilt and why it’s increasing
Researchers at the Paris Observatory’s Institute of Celestial Mechanics and Ephemeris Calculation have found that the unusual tilt of Saturn’s axis is due to the periodic gravitational pull of its moons over the last billion years.
Everyone who has taken basic geography knows that the Earth is tilted on its axis, but so are the other planets and other bodies in the solar system. The degree of these tilts vary so dramatically that, at first glance, this seems to be random. The tilt of a planet “just is.”
However, this turns out not to be the case. Saturn has a tilt in relation to its orbit of 26.73°, but this is not the result of chance. In fact, according to a pair of scientists from CNRS and the Sorbonne University working at the Paris Observatory, it’s due to a complex ballet of gravitational forces.
The mechanism is something called orbital resonance. As bodies revolve around the Sun and each other, they tug at one another periodically. It’s a very small tug, but over time, this can have a very large cumulative effect. The same principle is at work when you push a child in a swing. The push can be very small, but a swing, and an orbit, has a natural frequency at which it naturally vibrates, so each small push adds up to a big arc.
This concept of orbital resonance explains a lot about how orbiting bodies interact. In the case of Saturn, the research team found that the planet’s tilt wasn’t the result of an interaction with the gas giant Neptune four billion years ago, as previously thought, but by the pull of Saturn’s moons, especially its largest satellite, Titan.
Observations have determined the Titan and the other Saturnian moons are migrating. Over time, they are moving away from the planet, much as the Moon is gradually moving away from the Earth. However, the rate of the Saturnian moons’ migration is faster than previously thought, resulting in a greater tilt of the planet.
According to the research, Saturn had only a slight tilt for its first three billion years of existence. Then, about a billion years ago, the moons’ pull set up the orbital resonance that quickly, in cosmic terms, increased the tilt, which is still ongoing. It’s estimated that over the next billions of years, the tilt will become more pronounced.
The research was published in Nature Astronomy.
Biodegradable electronic display designed to help minimize e-waste
E-waste is a growing problem, so if an electronic component can’t be reused or recycled, it should at least be biodegradable. That’s where an experimental new electronic display comes in, as it can be composted when no longer needed.
Created by scientists at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the device is a type of electrochromic display. It utilizes an organic polymer known as PEDOT:PSS, in which the amount of light absorption changes as voltage is applied – as a result, individual segments of the display change between almost-clear and opaque states.
That polymer is deposited on a cellulose di-acetate substrate and sealed in an electrolyte gelatine, making the display both flexible and adhesive. The electrical current is applied via gold electrodes. And like other electrochromic displays, this one can be inexpensively produced using an inkjet printer.
The printing process could reportedly be easily scaled up for commercial production, yet it also allows for the production of small runs of specialized displays in custom shapes or sizes.
According to the researchers, the technology will likely find use in short-lifecycle applications. These could include disposable skin-worn sensors that monitor patients’ conditions, or food packaging that indicates if the food has spoiled.
“As far as we know, this is the first demonstration of a biodegradable display produced by inkjet printing,” says Gerardo Hernandez-Sosa, head of the Printed Electronics Group at KIT’s Light Technology Institute. “It will pave the way to sustainable innovations for other electronic components and to the production of eco-friendlier electronics.”
The display is described in a paper that was recently published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry.
Clip ebike conversion kit powers up the front wheel
While there are now a number of kits that allow you to convert your existing bicycle into an ebike, many of them involve adding a lot of … “stuff” to your bike. Clip keeps things simple, consisting of just a front wheel drive unit and a wireless remote.
Developed by a Brooklyn-based group of entrepreneurs, Clip is the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign. It has now entered production, with US shipping of the first units planned to take place this Spring.
At the heart of the setup is the aluminum-sided friction-drive module, which gets attached to the fork of a road or hybrid bike – as long as the front wheel is 26 to 28 inches in diameter, it should work. The module contains a 36V/144-Wh lithium battery, which powers a motorized rubber roller. That roller sits snugged up against the front tire – thus causing the front wheel to spin as the roller does – taking the bike to a top speed of 15 mph (24 km/h).
The whole thing weighs a claimed 7 lb (3 kg), and is actually not unlike a front-wheel version of the existing rear-wheel Rubbee kit. By making it front-specific, the idea is that Clip can be more easily attached and detached, allowing users to quickly swap it on and off of shared bicycles.
Riders activate the 450-watt motor as needed via a handlebar-mounted Bluetooth remote. It should be noted that Clip appears to be a throttle-only system, meaning that it does not automatically kick in to augment the user’s pedalling power. According to its creators, one 40-minute charge should be good for 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km) of use.
Clip can be pre-ordered via the link below. A deposit of US$50 is required, which will be applied toward the total price of $399. It’s currently only available to US customers.
You can see it in use, in the following video.
How does CLIP feel?
Amphibious ATV features six electrically powered wheels
If you need capable transportation in a remote area where there are no roads, yet you still want to stay at least somewhat eco-friendly, your options are limited. That’s exactly why the six-wheeled Green Scout electric amphibious ATV was created.
The all-terrain vehicle has been in development since 2017, and was conceived of by a group of Russian geologists working in the far north. Based on the features that they believed an ATV should possess, a team of Russian engineers designed and built the current prototype.
It features a welded steel frame with a protective coating, a watertight polyethylene body that can seat up to six people, and of course the six wheels. Each one of those independently suspended wheels has its own hydraulic shock absorber, hydraulic disc brake, and 3-kW (4-hp) electric hub motor. Power is provided by a battery pack located under the driver’s seat.
The vehicle weighs 450 kg (992 lb), has a ground clearance of 0.45 m (18 in), and can carry a maximum payload of 800 kg (1,764 lb) on land, or 1,200 kg (2,646 lb) when floating on the water. Its top speed is 70 km/h on land (43 mph) and 5 km/h on water (3 mph). We’re still waiting to hear back about how it moves through the water – it may just spin its knobby-tired wheels, although a transom for an outboard motor is offered as an accessory.
Its land-going battery range is a claimed 100 km (62 mi) per charge.
According to its designers, the ATV can keep going as long as at least one wheel/motor on each side remains functional. Additionally, if one of them does conk out, it can be replaced with a spare by the driver, on location. And as an added benefit, the battery pack can be used to power external devices if needed.
The Green Scout team is currently looking for investors, and is also offering discounts to potential buyers via an Indiegogo campaign. It is hoped that the vehicle will be commercially available in the second half of this year, priced at around US$10,000.
You can see the prototype in action (although not on the water), in the following video.
The world’s first electric amphibious all-terrain vehicle
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