June 26, 2009
Students at Folsom Lake College recently received NASA research awards for measuring Potentially Hazardous Asteroids for NASA and the Killer Asteroid Project. FLC Astronomy instructor Glenn Reagan led his class of students that included Cindy Terpe and Steve Kemppainen. Many teachers and students like Reagan, Terpe, and Kemppainen also had their names published at Harvard University for observations with exceptional scientific value to the astronomical community. Cindy Terpe won the award this year for the most student asteroid discoveries in the world with 4 discoveries.
Each of the students received NASA – Astronomical Research Institute award certificates this month for their research efforts over the school year. Folsom Lake College also received an engraved NASA award plaque that includes the lead instructor Glenn Reagan and each of the student names who participated in NASA’s Near Earth Object Observations Program and the Killer Asteroid Project.
"The students at Folsom Lake College downloaded our images from the Internet that were taken by powerful telescopes at our observatory that can see stars 10 million times fainter than you can see with your own eye", stated Robert Holmes, a research scientist for NASA’s Near Earth Object Observations Program. "Students in the Killer Asteroid Project made high quality measurements of these important objects that pose a possibility of striking the earth sometime in the future. Our goal in the Killer Asteroid Project is to measure these objects for NASA’s Near Earth Object Observations program and help protect the earth from a possible future asteroid or comet impact. It is very important work when you realize only a decade ago comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into the planet Jupiter. If this comet had hit the earth instead of Jupiter it would have had devastating results and none of us would be alive today! Most importantly, we have advanced technologically to the point that mankind can alter the path of a killer asteroid if we have enough advance notice. We just have to locate the ones that are a real threat to life on earth so NASA can take steps to prevent such a catastrophe in the future."
The Killer Asteroid Project is a worldwide NASA program managed by the Astronomical Research Institute located at Charleston, Illinois, and includes high schools, colleges and universities from China, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Poland, Portugal, Russia and the United States. Students working in the Killer Asteroid Project made over 9,300 measurements of these potentially hazardous objects in the past school year. Some students also discovered new asteroids that had never been seen before in association with the Astronomical Research Institute and the International Asteroid Search Campaign (IASC) ran by Patrick Miller at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas. "Providing exciting research opportunities, making discoveries and giving students the chance to work with professional astronomers is what our science programs are all about", stated Miller.
So why get students and educators involved in searching for potentially hazardous asteroids? Most people really never realize just how often and close asteroids come to hitting the earth. On March 15, 2004, an asteroid named Apophis just missed the earth by only 24,000 miles with only 3 days warning. The approach was so close that the earth's gravity deflected the 885 foot diameter asteroid with a speed over 50,000 miles per hour. Three days warning isn’t enough time to avert a disaster by a large asteroid capable of doing very serious damage. If it were to strike a large city or if it struck land it would send enough dust into the atmosphere to make the Earth’s climate much colder for several years affecting weather patterns and causing a shortage in the world food supply. On Friday April 13th 2029 Apophis will once again pass nearer to the earth than the satellites in space that transmit our television programs. It will make yet another return on April 13th 2036 with a slim chance it could strike the earth that year.
Click here for more information on the project.