Saturday, March 30, 2013

Will It Be Earth-Shattering?

Following the February meteor shower in Russia and last week's flashy object in the sky off the east coast of the U.S., one might wonder if our space-minded folks have a watch out for rocks in space that have a notion of occupying the same space currently occupied by our own homeworld.

Turns out they do, at least in the planning stages. NASA is funding an experimental asteroid detection radar detection array given the rather counter-intuitive name of "KaBOOM." As with most space-watching facilities, the name is an acronym: "Ka Band Objects Observation and Monitoring." "Ka band" refers to the frequency of the signals used for watching the nearby skies, which is 30 gigaHertz or 30 GHz. The name comes from the German word kurz, or "short." High-frequency signals have shorter wavelengths.

FM radio stations, in contrast, have broadcasting frequencies measured in "megaHertz,"  or millions of Hertz -- and a "Hertz" is a measurement of cycles per second of a particular signal. It's named after German physicist Heinrich Hertz, whose work laid much of the foundation for the modern study of electromagnetic radiation and its spectrum of signals. The gigaHertz antennae of project KaBOOM use signals measured in billions of cycles per second. AM radio that's measured in kiloHertz counts just thousands of cycles per second.

The experiment will see how well large antenna dishes can be coordinated to examine specific sections of sky more effectively than current facilities, which aren't always looking for things about to slam into us.

The story doesn't say whether or not the experiment will make use of the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, which has been theorized to be able to produce an earth-shattering kaboom of its own. This may be for the best, as deployment of the IQ36ESM has proven to be somewhat problematic in the past, especially when there are rabbits nearby.

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