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.

The Most Popular Infomercial Product in Each State

You don't have to pay $19.95 plus shipping and handling to discover the most popular infomercial product in each state: AT&T retailer All Home Connections is giving that information away for free via a handy map.

The map was compiled by cross-referencing the top-grossing infomercial products of all time with Google Trends search interest from the past calendar year. So, which crazy products do people order most from their TVs?

Folks in Arizona know that it's too hot there to wear layers; that's why they invest in the Cami Secret—a clip-on, mock top that gives them the look of a camisole without all the added fabric. No-nonsense New Yorkers are protecting themselves from identity theft with the RFID-blocking Aluma wallet. Delaware's priorities are all sorted out, because tons of its residents are still riding the Snuggie wave. Meanwhile, Vermont has figured out that Pajama Jeans are the way to go—because who needs real pants?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular product in many states has to do with fitness and weight loss, because when you're watching TV late enough to start seeing infomercials, you're probably also thinking to yourself: "I need to get my life together. I should get in shape." Seven states—Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin—have invested in the P90X home fitness system, while West Virginia and Arkansas prefer the gentler workout provided by the Shake Weight. The ThighMaster is still a thing in Illinois and Washington, while Total Gym and Bowflex were favored by South Dakota and Wyoming, respectively. 

Kitchen items are clearly another category ripe for impulse-buying: Alabama and North Dakota are all over the George Forman Grill; Alaska and Rhode Island are mixing things up with the Magic Bullet; and Floridians must be using their Slice-o-matics to chop up limes for their poolside margaritas.

Cleaning products like OxiClean (D.C. and Hawaii), Sani Sticks (North Carolina), and the infamous ShamWow (which claims the loyalty of Mainers) are also popular, but it's Proactiv that turned out to be the big winner. The beloved skin care system claimed the top spot in eight states—California, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas—making it the most popular item on the map.

Peep the full map above, or check out the full study from All Home Connections here.

A Florida Brewery Created Edible Six-Pack Rings to Protect Marine Animals

For tiny scraps of plastic, six-pack rings can pose a huge threat to marine life. Small enough and ubiquitous enough that they’re easy to discard and forget about, the little plastic webs all too often make their way to the ocean, where animals can ingest or become trapped in them. In order to combat that problem, Florida-based Saltwater Brewery has created what they say is the world’s first fully biodegradable, compostable, edible six-pack rings.

The edible rings are made of barley and wheat and are, if not necessarily tasty, at least safe for animals and humans to ingest. Saltwater Brewery started packaging their beers with the edible six-pack rings in 2016. They charge slightly more for their brews to offset the cost of the rings' production. They hope that customers will be willing to pay a bit more for the environmentally friendly beers and are encouraging other companies to adopt the edible six-pack rings in order to lower manufacturing prices and save more animals.

As Saltwater Brewery president Chris Gove says in the video above: “We want to influence the big guys and kind of inspire them to also get on board.”


More from mental floss studios