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Meet a NASA Scientist Who Protects Earth From Asteroid Collisions

It’s fair to say that Hollywood blockbusters have overhyped the potential of an Earth-ending asteroid collision, but there is some truth to those natural disaster stories.

The Solar System Dynamics group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab employs physicists like Marina Brozović to keep an eye on the many near-Earth objects that could potentially come in contact with the planet. Brozović spoke with WIRED about her work, and she called her division “flight control for the solar system.”

Brozović believes the team—formed at the request of Congress—has identified about 95 percent of near-Earth asteroids with a diameter greater than one kilometer. She tells WIRED that there are likely billions of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. These objects become so-called near-Earth asteroids when they’re nudged to the inner solar system by gravitational forces.

Asteroids have played a huge role in the development of Earth—from delivering organic material to causing mass extinctions around 66 million years ago. More recently, in February of 2013, an unexpected 17-meter asteroid exploded about 100,000 feet above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. The force of the explosion injured about 1200 people, and cost an estimated 1 billion rubles in damage.

Still, Brozović says that if an asteroid was going to collide with Earth, we’d likely spot it years ahead of time and be able to prepare a deflection mission. (See, we told you there was a nugget of truth in the silver screen.)

If you’re hungry for some up-close near-Earth asteroid action, the time is nigh: Asteroid 2013 TX68 will be making its closest approach on March 5. And in the meantime, head over to WIRED to hear Brozović talk about Carl Sagan and the death of the dinosaurs.

Images via NASA.

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26 Facts About LEGO Bricks

Since it first added plastic, interlocking bricks to its lineup, the Danish toy company LEGO (from the words Leg Godt for “play well”) has inspired builders of all ages to bring their most imaginative designs to life. Sets have ranged in size from scenes that can be assembled in a few minutes to 5000-piece behemoths depicting famous landmarks. And tinkerers aren’t limited to the sets they find in stores. One of the largest LEGO creations was a life-sized home in the UK that required 3.2 million tiny bricks to construct.

In this episode of the List Show, John Green lays out 26 playful facts about one of the world’s most beloved toy brands. To hear about the LEGO black market, the vault containing every LEGO set ever released, and more, check out the video above then subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with the latest flossy content.

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Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
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Tracing a word’s origin and evolution can yield fascinating historical insights—and the weird nicknames used in some states to describe their residents are no exception. In the Mental Floss video above, host John Green explains the probable etymologies of 29 monikers that describe inhabitants of certain states across the country.

Some of these nicknames, like “Hoosiers” and “Arkies” (which denote residents of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively) may have slightly offensive connotations, while others—including "Buckeyes," "Jayhawks," "Butternuts," and "Tar Heels"—evoke the military histories of Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And a few, like “Muskrats” and “Sourdoughs,” are even inspired by early foods eaten in Delaware and Alaska. ("Goober-grabber" sounds goofier, but it at least refers to peanuts, which are a common crop in Georgia, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas.)

Learn more fascinating facts about states' nicknames for their residents by watching the video above.

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