from the world's big
Experts decide to try knocking an asteroid off course
Before the next big, dangerous, incoming rock arrives.
- A NASA/ESA project plans to try and change the path of an extraterrestrial body.
- The target is the moon of a binary asteroid almost 7 million miles away.
- Science is getting serious about planetary defense.
It's a ready-made sci-fi trope: Authorities discover an asteroid racing toward the earth on track to wipe out everything we hold dear. Plus us. In the midst of the panic, an unusually attractive, resolute nobody grabs the public's attention: "I have an idea so crazy it just might work. We can fire a rocket at the demon rock and maybe, just maybe, knock it off course and save the Earth." Cue the popcorn and two hours of your life you'll never get back.
But maybe the hero's crazy idea could work. Of course, you wouldn't want to wait until it has to work to find out. So that's exactly what an international group of 130 scientists tasked with developing our planetary defenses have resolved to do: They're making plans to fire a spacecraft at a distant object to see if the kinetic impact can change its trajectory.
The AIDA project is a collaboration between NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency). "AIDA" is short for "Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment." In September, participants met to hash out the details in Rome. ESA's Ian Carnelli explains why: "Today, we're the first humans in history to have the technology to potentially deflect an asteroid from impacting the Earth. The key question that remains to be answered is, are the technologies and models that we have good enough to actually work? Before you drive a car, you need to have an insurance policy. Well, AIDA is the insurance policy for planet Earth."
The project actually involves two phases: The DART spacecraft will crash into an asteroid, and Hera will follow a few years later to assess the results.
The DART asteroid nudger
NASA is in charge of DART, or "Double Asteroid Redirection Test." In July 2021, the DART satellite, a half-ton chunk of metal, will be launched toward a known asteroid, 65803 Didymos, which is actually a binary object comprised of its main, larger 780-meter body and a smaller, 160-meter moonlet, AKA "Didymoon," that orbits it. It's Didymoon that's DART's target.
"[Didymos] is not on a path to collide with Earth," says Nancy Chabot, director of the mission, "and therefore poses no current threat to the planet, but its binary nature enables DART's kinetic impactor demonstration." It presents an opportunity to test DART and measure its effect in a controlled way since it will hit a satellite already in orbit around another object. In addition, Didymoon will be visible from ground telescopes as it passes in front of and behind the larger body.
The vehicle carrying DART will utilize two new acronymed technologies. One is a solar electric propulsion system first deployed during the decade-old Dawn mission to study protoplanets Vesta and Ceres. This system is called NEXT-C, or "NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster-Commercial." The other innovation is a new spacecraft-guidance algorithm called SMART-Nav, for "Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real-Time Navigation." Hitting such a distant target is no small matter, says Chabot: "One of DART's main challenges is to reliably target and squarely impact the small moonlet, 6.8 million miles away from Earth."
After a 16-month journey, in September 2022, just before hitting Didymoon, DART will release a small camera-bearing cubesat from Italy, the LICIACube, which will capture images of the 14,700 mph collision.
Just a slight alteration of the moonlet's path — even a fraction of a degree — will be enough to verify DART's success.
Series of radar images of Didymos and Didymoon, taken at Arecibo November 23, 24 and 26, 2003.
Image source: NASA/Naidu et al., AIDA Workshop, 2016
Two years after DART, the ESA's Hera will take off for a journey to Didymos that won't reach its destination until 2028. It'll have an autonomous navigation system onboard to help it reach the asteroid whose orbit will hopefully have changed a little by then, thanks to DART.
Hera contains a pair of cubesats, one of which will map the impact area on Didymoon using a high-resolution camera, LIDAR, and a thermal imager as the craft orbits the asteroid. The other will attempt to land on the satellite for an up-close crash-scene analysis. If successful, Didymoon will be the smallest object on which humans have ever landed.
Hera at Didymos
Image source: ESA–ScienceOffice.org
Back here on Earth
In the face of impending climate change, some find the idea of planetary defense quixotic. Still, its participants assert there's no reason not to use advancing technologies to do what we can to ensure humanity's long-term survival in the face of recognized potential future threats. As Carnelli puts it, "Planetary defense is really a worldwide endeavor. Besides just the technology and the science, AIDA is also a really good experiment in terms of collaboration between scientists and agencies around the world. It's the sort of thing that would be needed were an asteroid on a collision course for Earth."
Sample Melbourne's best coffee without leaving an ecological footprint.
- The massive increase in single-use coffee pods has led to an environmental catastrophe.
- Plastic pods are notorious for their inability to break down in landfills.
- Thankfully, a new wave of eco-friendly compostable pods is coming to the market.
Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
Workers are adjusting to their new employment reality on couches and kitchen tables across the nation.
A new study suggests that an old tuberculosis vaccine may reduce the severity of coronavirus cases.
- A new study finds a country's tuberculosis BCG vaccination is linked to its COVID-19 mortality rate.
- More BCG vaccinations is connected to fewer severe coronavirus cases in a country.
- The study is preliminary and more research is needed to support the findings.
Professor Luis Escobar.
Credit: Virginia Tech