Radio Occultation: Unraveling Saturn's Rings
May 23, 2005 Full-Res: PIA07873
Specially designed Cassini orbits place Earth and Cassini on opposite sides of Saturn's rings, a geometry known as occultation. Cassini conducted the first radio occultation observation of Saturn's rings on May 3, 2005.
Three simultaneous radio signals of 0.94, 3.6, and 13 centimeter wavelength (Ka, X-, and S-bands) were sent from Cassini through the rings to Earth. The observed change of each signal as Cassini moved behind the rings provided a profile of the distribution of ring material as a function of distance from Saturn, or an optical depth profile.
Pretty cool picture, no? I thought so.
Now about the NEO's.
As I posted last week, congress just passed H.R. 1022, the George E. Brown Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act. While it is definitely a step in the right direction, it hardly qualifies as a step. NASA currently has a budget of over $15 Billion dollars, and H.R. 1022 gets the following-$20,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2006 and 2007.
I'm sorry, but as much as I enjoy reading about the latest cool things going on with the Cassini Mission at Saturn, or the plans for us to return to the moon, NONE OF THESE PROGRAMS WILL MEAN A GODDAMN THING IF WE CANNOT SERIOUSLY ENGINEER A PROGRAM TO MITIGATE NEAR EARTH OBJECTS FROM KILLING EVERY LAST DAMN ONE OF US.
Does that mean I think that armageddon will one day come in the form of an asteroid? Maybe. The odds of it happening in my life time are minimal. It may not happen in the next 10,000 years. But it will happen. I am not screaming that the sky is falling. What I am screaming is that of a $15 BILLION Budget for NASA, only $20 million for NEO tracking is a freaking joke.
In regards to NEO 2004 MN4 and other NEO issues, Rusty Schweickart of the B612 Foundation gave a presentation to the the National Space Society International Space Development Conference in DC last weekend. I listed the PFD file for it before, Here it is again- A Call to (Considered) Action. In it, he breaks down the cost analysis of tracking and possibly mitigating 2004 MN4 if it turns out to be headed our way.
"The question arises as to whether the expense of an immediate science mission to asteroid 2004MN4 is warranted. From an economic point of view the justifiable expense to mitigate the cost of an undesired event is determined by the product of the probability of the event occurring and the cost of the event were it to occur. In this instance where the impact "path of risk" passes from the western Pacific Ocean north of Japan, along the Mexican west coast, through Central America and out into the Atlantic Ocean, the most likely result of a collision with asteroid 2004MN4 in 2036 is a massive tsunami. The societal cost of a tsunami which would be generated by the impact of this asteroid is estimated to be $400Billion. Given that the current probability of impact is 1 in 10,000 the justifiable investment in currentaction to mitigate against this eventuality is $40M. By mid-2006 the probability of impact (and with it the justifiable investment in mitigation) is likely to increase by a factor of 4 and by mid-2012 by afactor of 10. The cost of a $3-400M scientific mission to the asteroid would therefore be a rational and prudent investment in public safety."
And even with this money, it would still only be a dent in the $15 billion NASA budget. I think it is RECKLESS to do anything less than what Mr. Schweickart is proposing.
But then again, I am an asteroid freak.........