Asteroid monitors, fusion reactors and dunes: Your weekly reading list

Martian sand dunes
This view from the mast camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a dark sand dune in the middle distance. The scene combines several images taken on Sept. 25, 2015, during the 1,115th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars.
NASA| JPL-Caltech

As Curiosity sets a course up Mount Sharp, studying the sand dunes of Mars along the way, NASA has begun planning for a trip to Europa and perhaps even to Venus.

This week, meet the sky-watchers scanning space for near-Earth objects; meet marine biologist Sylvia Earle; and learn about the Wendelstein 7-X, a newly finished fusion reactor.

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The asteroid hunters

The odds of a civilization-ending asteroid strike are quite low, but scientists and astronomers are scanning the skies, just in case.

"Halloween" asteroid
Asteroid 2015 TB145, the "Halloween asteroid," is depicted in eight individual radar images collected on Oct. 31, 2015, about 435,000 miles from Earth. The asteroid safely flew past Earth, outside of the Moon's orbit.

While the most significant recent asteroid strike that we know of was the 1908 Tunguska event, in which a large area of remote Siberian forest was flattened, the asteroid that broke up over Russia in 2013 was a stark reminder that near-Earth objects exist.

Scientists scanning the skies have been able to discover man-made near-Earth objects as well. No one knows exactly what the object cataloged as WT1190F is, but it was first noticed in 2009, and burned up under watchful eyes in early November.

via Popular Mechanics and Wired

Can Sylvia Earle save the oceans?

Dr. Sylvia Earle
Sylvia Earle answers audience questions at a special preview screening of the Netflix film 'Mission Blue' at the National Geographic Society's Grosvenor Auditoriumin Washington, D.C.
Paul Morigi

A prolific oceanographer and an instrumental force behind Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument, Earle has spent her career working to educate the public about the oceans and the impact we have on them.

via Outside

The Burning Man of birding: Inside Iceland's puffin festival

Each year the Icelandic island of Vestmannaeyjar holds the Thjodhatid festival, a celebration that features smoked puffin as the main dish.

The puffins have been disappearing as their food supply diminished, forcing a somber change to the traditions of the island — and the festival.

via Audubon

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Fusion reactor makes its debut

A long-lasting and non-polluting energy source sounds too good to be true — and so far it has been unattainable.

The Wendelstein 7-X, a stellarator-style fusion reactor at the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics, is the most recent attempt to harness the power that drives our sun.

Bonus: Learn how a fusion reactor works.


Watch SpaceX fire up its Crew Dragon capsule's escape engines


Bonus monolith

The mention of Europa always invokes the indelible impression that Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" made on me.