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NASA Meteoroid-Spotting Program Captures Brightest-Yet Moon Impact

timothy posted about a year ago | from the look-exclusively-on-the-bright-side dept.

Space 66

From a NASA press release published Friday: "For the past 8 years, NASA astronomers have been monitoring the Moon for signs of explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the lunar surface. 'Lunar meteor showers' have turned out to be more common than anyone expected, with hundreds of detectable impacts occurring every year. They've just seen the biggest explosion in the history of the program." Watch the flash for yourself.

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66 comments

First Space 1999 Ref! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43759901)

'Struth! [youtube.com]

Re: First Space 1999 Ref! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43760769)

Was that Alan Carter's catchphrase ?

Re:First Space 1999 Ref! (1)

abarrow (117740) | about a year ago | (#43761403)

Sigh. 1999, 2001, 2010... all passed.

WHERE'S MY FREAKING HOVER CAR?????

Re:First Space 1999 Ref! (1)

sanman2 (928866) | about a year ago | (#43766291)

Where's Michael Bay?
Maybe he saw what James Cameron did at the bottom of the Pacific, and decided to top that

Nooo! (1)

phrackthat (2602661) | about a year ago | (#43759905)

Moon terrorists! Quick, let's send everyone from DHS to the Moon!

Re: Nooo! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43761089)

don't forget to send all the telephone hygienists and lawyers as well.

C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (5, Interesting)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43759909)

"On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.

"size of a small boulder"? This has to be one of the most useless size descriptions possible (I suppose they could have said "the size of a random rock"). Given that they later indicate

The 40 kg meteoroid measuring 0.3 to 0.4 meters wide

it's not as if they shouldn't have been able to come up with a more descriptive metaphor.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (3, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#43759917)

Where's the kaboom? You call that an earth shattering kaboom?

Oh. Wait.

I

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (2)

wvmarle (1070040) | about a year ago | (#43759933)

Where's the kaboom? You call that an earth shattering kaboom?

Oh. Wait.

I

It's on the moon, silly. That should be a "moon shattering kaboom". And it seems on-one has ever heard one of those, so we don't know how they sound like.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (2)

jamesh (87723) | about a year ago | (#43760155)

Where's the kaboom? You call that an earth shattering kaboom?

Oh. Wait.

I

It's on the moon, silly. That should be a "moon shattering kaboom". And it seems on-one has ever heard one of those, so we don't know how they sound like.

I was thinking about this. On the next trip to the moon they should stick a few seismic monitoring devices around the place. From that they could synthesize some audio which would make that youtube video a bit more exciting, and start a few flame wars on why there is audio at all from people who don't read tfs.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

Nutria (679911) | about a year ago | (#43760195)

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43760233)

Unfortunately, they stopped transmitting in 1977 (so no useful information to correlate with today's more advanced remote sensing capabilities). Either a few more (simple) landers are in order, or perhaps we could get some seismic information from laser interferometry off the the corner-cube reflectors we left on the moon (from an Earth-orbiting satellite with an *incredibly fast* fringe counter --- looks hard with today's technology, but perhaps not *that* far away to measure shifts to the O(10GHz) varying optical light interference pattern from an orbital-speed craft).

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (2)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#43760335)

Penetrators with seismographs have been developed for for use on Mars missions, and then cancelled several times. It should be possible to adapt them for lunar use.

'Lunar meteor showers' have turned out to be more common than anyone expected

I find this a bit worrying. When Comet Shoemaker-Levy hit Jupiter it was estimated to be a once in a century or more event, but since then marks left behind by at least two and possibly three other strikes have been seen. I wonder if estimates for the amount of material drifting around the solar system aren't considerably off.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

Trax3001BBS (2368736) | about a year ago | (#43760709)

I find this a bit worrying. When Comet Shoemaker-Levy hit Jupiter it was estimated to be a once in a century or more event, but since then marks left behind by at least two and possibly three other strikes have been seen

.

Sad that Galileo's antenna didn't open. Headed towards Jupiter it was in a position to film the comet pieces as they hit
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_(spacecraft)#Main_antenna_failure [wikipedia.org]

Now that would of been very cool to of seen.

I wonder if estimates for the amount of material drifting around the solar system aren't considerably off

.

Think we've been seeing this from Russian dash cams. But those who gave us the numbers also claim Jupiter's gravity
protects Earth to a great extent.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about a year ago | (#43760603)

I am pretty sure the seismic gear was shut down remotely to save money on the ground.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43762171)

The PSE was part of ALSEP, a package/system used on all the later Apollo missions that had several experiments all connected to a central transmitter and power source (although a few would use their own power sources). By 1977, pretty much all of them had only one or two experiments still working, and they struggled to provided power to both the transmitter and the experiments at the same time. The older 2 of the 4 PSEs were only partially operating. It was predicted there would only be enough power to power the PSE for less than a year in 3 of the four cases. So there was only one PSE that had any long term hopes of being used, but it would run out of power in 3-4 years too.

It is classified as a budget decision, but basically NASA needed the transmitters and control room equipment on the ground to be re-purposed, as they had other uses for it. The experiments were close to dead already though, approaching minimal science output. Additionally, the transmitters of the ALSEP were used for calibration of radio equipment, including by radio astronomers. So in a sense, it was more about shifting resources to where it would be more useful, and after some stress tests on the ALSEP platforms to see how the electronics aged, they were basically turned into beacons and ground equipment re-purposed for use on newer experiments. There is pretty much zero chance they would be around today, with the most optimistic outcome being the last PSE to die, already giving lower quality data for a couple years, by 81 or 82.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

hinckeljn (2829683) | about a year ago | (#43770395)

No kaboom here. No sound propagation in vacuum. Only thru the lunar soil itself. Standing on the Moon you might feel it from your boots but you wouldn't hear it.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1, Interesting)

wvmarle (1070040) | about a year ago | (#43759925)

What stroke me more is at the end of the video they suggest to stay indoors during meteor showers.

I'd say the risk of your bulding being struck is higher than that of a space-walking astroaut, due to the larger area. And such a 5-ton-TNT hit is a pretty devastating blow to pretty much anything we can build. That is, unless they'd go deep underground (for more reasons than meteorites a good idea).

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (3, Insightful)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43759973)

Granted, at that point they were talking about not staying out in a meteor shower if you're *on the moon*. That might be more appropriate advice than on Earth --- it's the atmosphere that keeps people safe from being killed by the average 40 tons a day of space debris raining down on the planet. Staying a bit less exposed won't protect you from a 5-ton hit, but it might keep you from getting punctured by some pea-sized shrapnel arriving at far higher than normal frequency in the same debris clusters with 40cm chunks.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43760097)

What stroke me more

Please tell me that's a typo and not an indication we've arrived at tech previously only seen in David Cronenberg films.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

gsgriffin (1195771) | about a year ago | (#43760199)

That's the way I read it, too! Haven't used this in a long time, but I actually am LOL.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43760143)

What stroke me more is at the end of the video they suggest to stay indoors during meteor showers.

No -- no, you missed the point here. If they're inside, that means there's more photons available for us that are actually watching it.

Duh.

("Math is Hard" Barbie #43760111 says "Hi.")

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#43759977)

Not sure 'boulder' quite qualifies as a metaphor, especially in that we're talking about the same thing, rocks. I was taught that metaphor was used to describe one thing in terms of another, disparate, thing. "A rock the size of a ship" could be a metaphor, for instance.

As for size, I wonder if that might not be generational or possibly geographical. When I was a lad, there were rocks. Unless specified or implied by context, rocks were usually something that one might readily pick up. Boulder, on the other hand, of any size, was something that was generally considered to big and heavy for an un-aided human to pick up. A small boulder might be knee to waist high (a knee high boulder is gonna be easily several hundred pounds). A large boulder might the size of a house. And so on. YMMV, of course, but those are the ways I've long thought of these things, from reading and from direct experience.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (2)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year ago | (#43770119)

In this context, I read "boulder" as being a technical term, from the list of sediment grain size classes. The largest class of sediment grains is "boulder", at sizes greater than 256mm (yes, it's a power-of-two scale) ; so a "small boulder" is something not far above this boundary condition.

"small boulder" is completely the correct term to use. Just because it sounds like the talk you'd hear on the street, doesn't mean that it's not a precisely worded technical description.

(Yes, I am a geologist, and yes, I do use this size scale every working day of my life.)

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#43774053)

Had no idea there was a geologists' definition for this. Thanks! But I think your reply ought more correctly be to femtobyte. I take note that my seat of the pants experiential take wasn't so far off, and I stand by my stating that "small boulder" is not a metaphor but rather a simple description.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (2)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year ago | (#43760071)

Am I the only one who finds the inevitable unit flame in NASA stories not only tiresome but cliche?

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43760131)

I'll admit my "units" dig was somewhat of a worn-out trollish dig. However, the substance of the criticism --- poor science reporting for engaging the general public --- remains. NASA is usually pretty good at relaying scientific information to a general public audience; I'd expect better than this type of unhelpful jargon (correct using a technical definition of boulder at slightly larger than 10 inches / 25cm, but pretty useless to most readers). Clarity in communications is a major part of the *job* of top researchers who will be first in line for producing media soundbites, along with the writers deciding which selected quotes to put on a press release page.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year ago | (#43760285)

Perhaps "a small boulder" is a better metaphor than "a 40kg rock of 0.3 meters"? Maybe NASA is trying to get to a different audience than JUST YOU? You're not "most readers" and what you want is irrelevant.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43762295)

We could just think of the children and say "a lunar meteorite the mass of an 8 year old child" with a size just around 40% larger than a basketball.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43760177)

Did you see this response to it:

Let me convert that for you:
1 mile is equivalent to 1609.34 m
Therefore 55000 mph = 24587.2

Priceless.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43760111)

"size of a small boulder"? This has to be one of the most useless size descriptions possible. ...
it's not as if they shouldn't have been able to come up with a more descriptive metaphor.

Then how about: the size of a GINORMOUS pebble? Or the size of a very small planet? C'mon, they know they're talking to dummies, they have to K.I.S.S.. They just want you to know that it wasn't Mars or Andro-non-o...media hitting the moon.

Or: it impacted with 21 GJ [gigajoules], or 5 Tons of TNT (But when's the last time anyone saw a ton of TNT? And everyone already knows that "Math is Hard", so why are you giggling about a jouwl anyway?) ,

Or for the mandatory car metaphor: it's just like 8 full tanks of leaded gasoline all hitting the moon at once and exploding, exactly like when you see 8 cars blow up in the movies.

1) http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/16may_lunarimpact/
2) http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/commercial/technical-info/tools/gigajoule.cfm
3) http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-8BwN-OrCSWA/TrgXFiST5bI/AAAAAAAAAkM/JcRAf4_70oQ/s320/mathIsHard.jpg
3b) http://www.ebay.com/itm/330711700093
4) http://www.convertunits.com/from/gigajoule/to/gallon+[U.S.]+of+automotive+gasoline

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43760153)

C'mon, they know they're talking to dummies, they have to K.I.S.S.

That's exactly why you don't use an uninformative description like "size of a small boulder." Someone familiar with details of geological jargon might know that "boulder" often technically refers to a rock over 25cm (so "small boulder" is an accurate estimate for 30-40cm object) --- however, for a "dummy" in a general audience, the term is completely useless. If you want to be more visually descriptive than 30-40cm (12-16 inch) diameter, say something like "large watermelon sized" or "beachball sized," etc.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43762185)

Someone familiar with details of geological jargon might know that "boulder" often technically refers to a rock over 25cm (so "small boulder" is an accurate estimate for 30-40cm object)

I'm willing to bet that the person who picked that analogy in the PR piece didn't actually know the jargon definition of a boulder, and that it has a technical meaning is irrelevant in this context.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43762367)

The person who made the statement was Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office --- I'm guessing he's a pretty savvy geologist, with a solid grasp of technical jargon relating to rocks. The science reporter choosing quotes for the PR release might not have been quite so technical; but it's their job to help prompt the mission scientists into explaining things in a useful way for the general public.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year ago | (#43770141)

Water melons vary by a factor of ... 3 or 4 (I don't know - I don't think that the season has started yet, has it ? ; certainly haven't brought one for ... a couple of years. Pomellos, on the other hand ; lots.), and beachballs, again, I don't think I've seen one for I don't know how long. The gale force winds tend to make them a bit academic on the local beach. So sorry, your parochial size terminology is useless to me.

"Boulder" says precisely what it means to say, no more and no less.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (4, Interesting)

jamesh (87723) | about a year ago | (#43760145)

"On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.

"size of a small boulder"? This has to be one of the most useless size descriptions possible (I suppose they could have said "the size of a random rock"). Given that they later indicate

The 40 kg meteoroid measuring 0.3 to 0.4 meters wide

it's not as if they shouldn't have been able to come up with a more descriptive metaphor.

That bothered me less than the fact that in the same sentence they describe its size and mass in metric units but its speed in imperial units.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43760221)

I've got it: it was the size of large hail.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

flimflammer (956759) | about a year ago | (#43760333)

I'm more thrown off by the tone of the narration in the video. The way she talks in a monotonous tone through the whole thing and the way she adds "he said/she said" to attribute a quotation sounded off because there was no pause or change in tone between it and the quotation itself. I felt like I was in school again listening to some home-made video on lunar impacts by a teacher who has never read lines aloud before.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

radarskiy (2874255) | about a year ago | (#43760349)

Normal people, who have experience with the outdoors, have no trouble with such a comparison.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

ignavus (213578) | about a year ago | (#43760389)

"On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.

"size of a small boulder"? This has to be one of the most useless size descriptions possible (I suppose they could have said "the size of a random rock"). Given that they later indicate

That all depends. Was it a metric boulder (usually measured in liths, like microlith - very small boulder - or megalith - huge rectangular boulder that causes evolutionary changes) or was it an imperial boulder?

The 40 kg meteoroid measuring 0.3 to 0.4 meters wide

it's not as if they shouldn't have been able to come up with a more descriptive metaphor.

Ah, 40 kg - it was a metric boulder.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | about a year ago | (#43760545)

"size of a small boulder"? This has to be one of the most useless size descriptions

NASA message is intended to be delivered to anybody, not only the /. geeks. While we (/. geeks) are used to numbers and proportions, a "small boulder" - while less accurate - is represented better by most people than 0.634124 meter.

Re:C'mon NASA, get your act together on units (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about a year ago | (#43761229)

Is it a metaphor? Or maybe, just maybe, boulder has a scientific definition that you are ignorant of?

So what substance exploded? (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about a year ago | (#43759959)

Impact kinetic effects are not the same as an explosion. What substances explode on the moon and why didn't that happen when we sent landing crafts over? Could the entire moon explode if a bigger asteroid hits it?

Re:So what substance exploded? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43759991)

>Impact kinetic effects are not the same as an explosion.

Physics, you fail it.

Hit a piece of metal with a hammer and it will heat up; a well known physics demonstration. Slam a meteor into the ground hard enough and it will get so hot it becomes a gas. And what is an explosion but a rapidly expanding ball of hot gases?

Re:So what substance exploded? (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43760011)

An explosion is a rapid increase in volume and release of energy in an extreme manner, usually with the generation of high temperatures and the release of gases.

--Wikipedia (not the final word on technical sources; feel free to reply with a more definitive description)

The impact converts the massive kinetic energy of fast-moving space items into a lot of localized *friggin' hot* material: the white-hot flash that you see in the video, as the lunar surface is explosively vaporized into a blast of ionized plasma. Impact kinetic effects (with enough energy) *are* very similar to an explosion from some other source releasing similar energy. When we send landing crafts, they try not to dump 5 tons of TNT equivalent in a fraction of a millisecond --- that's generally bad for the craft.

Re:So what substance exploded? (4, Informative)

Bieeanda (961632) | about a year ago | (#43760185)

The original article addresses this in a footnote:

The Moon has no oxygen atmosphere, so how can something explode? Lunar meteors don't require oxygen or combustion to make themselves visible. They hit the ground with so much kinetic energy that even a pebble can make a crater several feet wide. The flash of light comes not from combustion but rather from the thermal glow of molten rock and hot vapors at the impact site.

Re:So what substance exploded? (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#43760253)

Could the entire moon explode if a bigger asteroid hits it?

Yes, but the ass would have to be on some killer steroids.

The geek equivelant of watching paint dry. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43759981)

Government will do anything to make defense spending look like a good idea by comparison.

Re:The geek equivelant of watching paint dry. (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43760087)

Given the ridiculous number of orders of magnitude in expenditure between "defense spending" and analyzing data from a video camera pointed at the moon to see if we can learn anything interesting, I'm not particularly seeing the validity of your comparison. If NASA did *nothing else* over the past year than produce this video (no Mars rovers or anything else), they'd still be a fantastically cheap and productive enterprise compared to defense spending (which spends ~40x more per year that all of NASA to make the world a more violent and dangerous place).

Re:The geek equivelant of watching paint dry. (1)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#43761921)

Good news on the military spending front! Since China and Russia have raised their military budgets the Pentagram now accounts for only 40 percent of worldwide military spending, and its budget is only larger than the next two countries combined instead of the next five! Of course that doesn't include the Black Budget, Fatherland Security, or the thousands of mercenaries contracted to do things like guard our embassies, consulates and some of the multinational corporations' oil pipelines , but who's counting?

Metroid-Spotting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43760067)

Who else read that headline as Metroid-Spotting? I was like, really?

Re: Metroid-Spotting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43760619)

I did for a second. I got really excited, cheap energy from our highly dangerous slave race. What could go wrong.

YouTube comments are hilarious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43760115)

and horribly depressing.

That's what you get (1)

gsgriffin (1195771) | about a year ago | (#43760193)

when you don't have an atmosphere.

Moon, didn't you know it is your right to have an atmosphere. How dare anyone deny you your right to defend yourself. Who will you sue for damages? Your face has been forever changed and someone else must pay for that!

Re:That's what you get (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#43760259)

Moon, didn't you know it is your right to have an atmosphere.

The moon's atmosphere is made of regolith, You insensitive clod! Solid rock strata means its stratosphere is a lot tougher than ours!

Re:That's what you get (2)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43760341)

Earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level is roughly equivalent to having ~10m of water (1g/cm^3 density) above our heads. At a density of ~1.5g/cm^3, and a thickness between 5 and 10m, lunar regolith [nasa.gov] is in many areas equivalent to *less* mass than the atmosphere protecting our heads. That "solid rock" might be a bit less tough than you think compared to the crazy big chunk of air covering us on Earth.

The solar system is busier than we thought (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#43760361)

It's amazing how much miscellaneous rock is floating around this solar system. Four sizable chunks of rock (tens of meters) have gone by the earth in the last week, one within lunar orbit. None were known objects.

There's a mile-sized one going by on March 31st, but closest approach is over 3 million miles.

Hazard to Earth from the Moon? (1)

Skapare (16644) | about a year ago | (#43761889)

Anyone know how big of an impact to the Moon could be a hazard to Earth (for example, from ejected material).

Re:Hazard to Earth from the Moon? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year ago | (#43770215)

You're envisaging that an impact on the Moon causes enough mass of ejecta that the amount impinging on the Earth's atmosphere is enough to do ... something significant? Or that a single impactor of sufficient size is ejected from the lunar impact which could then impact on a city/ county/ state/ country/ continent and obliterate it?

The latter case is pretty implausible : you'd want an ejectum of several kilometres diameter to be a worthwhile opponent. The 50-odd metres of the Barringer impactor really isn't enough to wipe out much more than a small city. Particularly the sprawling cities of America. To get an ejectum from an impactor, you need a very large shear rate, which only occurs in a small range of angles from the axis of the impactor. (Unless you've got a very grazing impact.) So you're unlikely to have a big enough volume to generate such a large impactor. And you'd get a much larger volume of smaller ejecta generated at the same time.

Producing lots of "Chelyabinsk" or "Tunguska" like air-bursters ... that's a more credible situation. But it'd still need a fairly large impactor, and they are the less common ones. And I think that they're more likely to impact the Earth than the Moon (and then spray the Earth with secondary ejecta).

But to be honest, I'd lose more sleep over the big impactor headed directly for Earth than the effects of secondary ejecta from a Lunar impact. And I do pay attention to these things, looking at the (literally) astronomical chances of them happening and affecting me, and I don't lose sleep over that (being far enough inland and up-hill to not worry about a distant ocean strike).

Un-Watchable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43763681)

Un-Watchable. Perhaps Google Censorship. Or maybe just incompetence. But for whatever reason, the video never plays for more than 10 seconds.

What time did this happen (California time)? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43767505)

I thought I saw it. But I was tired walking home from a long day of work. I wonder if I did.

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