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The Moon Is Making the Days on Earth Longer

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We've all complained that there aren't enough hours in the day, and apparently the Moon has always been listening. New research shows that days on Earth are getting longer, and this phenomenon can be attributed to the Moon's slow drift away from Earth, Space.com reports.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison determined that 1.4 billion years ago, when the Moon was closer to us, a day on Earth lasted about 18 hours. Each year, the Moon moves about 1.5 inches away from our planet, mainly due to Earth's tidal forces. As the Moon grows more distant, Earth rotates more slowly around its axis "like a spinning figure skater who slows down as they stretch their arms out," Stephen Meyers, the study's co-author, explained in a statement.

However, we won't notice the difference while we're alive—and neither will our great-great-grandchildren, for that matter. A few years ago, astronomer Britt Scharringhausen estimated that in 100 years, the day will be two milliseconds longer.

The scientists at UW reached their findings, which were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by drawing on astronomy and geology. Using a statistical method called astrochronology, they studied two rock formations in China and the Atlantic Ocean that date back 1.4 billion and 55 million years, respectively, to better understand the ancient history of the Earth.

"The geologic record is an astronomical observatory for the early solar system," Meyers explained. "We are looking at its pulsing rhythm, preserved in the rock and the history of life."

Variations in Earth's movements—known as Milankovitch cycles—are determined not just by the Moon, but also by the other planets. This ultimately determines the amount of sunlight that reaches Earth and affects our planet's climate.

[h/t space.com]

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NASA Has a Plan to Stop the Next Asteroid That Threatens Life on Earth
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An asteroid colliding catastrophically with Earth within your lifetime is unlikely, but not out of the question. According to NASA, objects large enough to threaten civilization hit the planet once every few million years or so. Fortunately, NASA has a plan for dealing with the next big one when it does arrive, Forbes reports.

According to the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan [PDF] released by the White House on June 21, there are a few ways to handle an asteroid. The first is using a gravity tractor to pull it from its collision course. It may sound like something out of science fiction, but a gravity tractor would simply be a large spacecraft flying beside the asteroid and using its gravitational pull to nudge it one way or the other.

Another option would be to fly the spacecraft straight into the asteroid: The impact would hopefully be enough to alter the object's speed and trajectory. And if the asteroid is too massive to be stopped by a spacecraft, the final option is to go nuclear. A vehicle carrying a nuclear device would be launched at the space rock with the goal of either sending it in a different direction or breaking it up into smaller pieces.

Around 2021, NASA will test its plan to deflect an asteroid using a spacecraft, but even the most foolproof defense strategy will be worthless if we don’t see the asteroid coming. For that reason, the U.S. government will also be working on improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, the technology NASA uses to track asteroids. About 1500 NEOs are already detected each year, and thankfully, most of them go completely unnoticed by the public.

[h/t Forbes]

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Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Stephen Hawking’s Memorial Will Beam His Words Toward the Nearest Black Hole
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

An upcoming memorial for Stephen Hawking is going to be out of this world. The late physicist’s words, set to music, will be broadcast by satellite toward the nearest black hole during a June 15 service in the UK, the BBC reports.

During his lifetime, Hawking signed up to travel to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, but he died before he ever got the chance. (He passed away in March.) Hawking’s daughter Lucy told the BBC that the memorial's musical tribute is a “beautiful and symbolic gesture that creates a link between our father's presence on this planet, his wish to go into space, and his explorations of the universe in his mind.” She described it as "a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet."

Titled “The Stephen Hawking Tribute,” the music was written by Greek composer Vangelis, who created the scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. It will play while Hawking’s ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey, near where Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are buried, according to Cambridge News. After the service, the piece will be beamed into space from the European Space Agency’s Cebreros Station in Spain. The target is a black hole called 1A 0620-00, “which lives in a binary system with a fairly ordinary orange dwarf star,” according to Lucy Hawking.

Hawking wasn't the first person to predict the existence of black holes (Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity accounted for them back in the early 1900s), but he spoke at length about them throughout his career and devised mathematical theorems that gave credence to their existence in the universe.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, a friend of the Hawking family who portrayed the late scientist in the BBC film Hawking, will speak at the service. In addition to Hawking's close friends and family, British astronaut Tim Peake and several local students with disabilities have also been invited to attend.

[h/t BBC]

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