Asteroids, Satellites, 2012 DA14, and Orbital Mechanics

Like many of you I was fascinated with the dramatic entrance of a recent asteroid into the atmosphere over Russia. It’s flash, its trail, and it’s compression wave remind us of the dynamic space throughout the solar system, galaxy, and universe. I feel bad that some people were injured.

My interest in astronomy has been expanded. Being an aerospace engineer, I have had interest in aerodynamics and astrodynamics for some time. I have a small 4 inch refractive telescope. I have family members that have larger reflective telescopes. Space is a wonderful frontier. A few years ago I took a graduate class in Orbital Mechanics, the science of spacecraft under the influence of gravity, and Celestial Mechanics, the science of systems of objects under the influence of gravity. We studied orbits, orbital transfers, planetary rendezvous, hyperbolic approach, and many other very interesting aspects of planning and predicting the motion of bodies in space. For those who are inclined, I recommend adding Orbital Mechanics to your Engineering education. This is how engineers and scientist follow asteroids and project their trajectory. These are the people who have been tracking 2012 DA14 for the last year. These are the people who could determine well in advance if it would hit the Earth. Now that it has passed close to Earth, I’m sure computer models are running to project its ongoing trajectory for the foreseeable future.

Because of my interest in this subject, I tried to capture a bit of the flavor of orbital mechanics in my story, “The Orbital Mechanic,” posted last fall. Its a short read. If you haven’t read it yet, may I encourage you to gravitate in that direction.



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