Feeds

A year in spaaaaace: El Reg looks back on 2011

Era of the spaceplane ends, robot exploration continues

New hybrid storage solutions

Apocalypse now, or next year

With 2012 just around the corner, the possibility of the Apocalypse seems more likely than ever to some, and some who should know better, like NASA, weren't doing too much to quell the potential panic.

Despite framing each of their releases as a story of the lack of threat to the planet, the US space agency nonetheless managed to convey just how precarious a position the Earth can find itself in.

In August, for no apparent reason, NASA released a statement that denied that Comet Elenin was on its way to destroy the planet.

Since most people weren't aware they had claimed it was, the strident denial was something of a worry.

"Comet Elenin poses no threat to Earth," NASA said, going on to say that it was too small to do anything and anyway wasn't going to pass close enough to the Earth to worry about.

The comet did in fact break up on its way to Earth, reducing its total insignificance even further, and in no way making people wonder if a crack team had to be dispatched to deal with the apocalyptic asteroid so that the rest of mankind could continue their lives in ignorance of the close shave.

Speaking of apocalyptic asteroids, NASA also issued the results of multi-year survey the agency undertook of near-Earth objects, using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

The agency reassured folks that there were fewer asteroids big enough to be Earth-threatening than boffins had previously thought. However, it couldn't help adding that strictly speaking, there was still plenty of them.

NASA also said that the chances of a large asteroid hitting the Earth before scientists could find it and warn about it were "substantially reduced". Just what we would do with such a warning (panicking? rioting? looting? blissful ignorance at the hands of a government that wants none of those thing?) was not a point the agency elaborated on.

Just a few months later, the ominous-looking 'asteroid' YU55 headed towards a close brush with the Earth. NASA said the rock - a gigantic, spinning, black sphere - was expected to make a close pass by the planet, coming well inside the orbit of the Moon.

The agency subsequently felt the need to again insist that the asteroid would pass Earth safely, as the extremely unusual-looking asteroid came closer to us.

Not content with concerning itself with what might fall on us from above, NASA was also keen to let us know that supervolcanoes right here on Earth were "unlikely".

The agency couldn't deny that super-volcanoes had laid waste to the planet in the past, or that they would happen again at some point or another, but it was at pains to say that there was no way to forecast that it would happen in 2012.

However, since scientists can't predict accurately when a supervolcano might erupt, it could just as easily be next year as any other time ... Comforting.

Returning to celestial death raining down from above, NASA also wanted to clear up the whole issue of solar flares, a common explanation for the Mayan calendar's predicted end of the world next year.

Solar flare from sunspot AR1339

Solar flare from sunspot AR1339. Credit: NASA/SDO

NASA said that there just "isn't enough energy in the Sun to send a killer fireball 93 million miles to destroy Earth". However, solar flares are a problem, in "the same way hurricanes are a problem" – which is a not insubstantial problem. But not to worry, "one can protect oneself with advance information and proper precautions".

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Next page: Space is cool

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Chelyabinsk-sized SURPRISE asteroid to skim Earth, satnav birds
Space rock appears out of nowhere, buzzes planet on Sunday
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.