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Posts Tagged ‘asteroid

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft returns beauty from asteroid Vesta

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A new video from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft takes us on a flyover journey above the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta.

The data obtained by Dawn’s framing camera, used to produce the visualizations, will help scientists determine the processes that formed Vesta’s striking features. It will also help Dawn mission fans all over the world visualize this mysterious world, which is the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt.

You’ll notice in the video that Vesta is not entirely lit up. There is no light in the high northern latitudes because, like Earth, Vesta has seasons. Currently it is northern winter on Vesta, and the northern polar region is in perpetual darkness. When we view Vesta’s rotation from above the south pole, half is in darkness simply because half of Vesta is in daylight and half is in the darkness of night .

Another distinct feature seen in the video is a massive circular structure in the south pole region. Scientists were particularly eager to see this area close-up, since NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope first detected it years ago. The circular structure, or depression, is several hundreds of kilometers wide, with cliffs that are also several miles high. One impressive mountain in the center of the depression rises approximately 15 kilometers above the base of this depression, making it one of the highest elevations on all known bodies with solid surfaces in the solar system.

Enjoy. Who knows? Your children or grandchildren may visit someday.

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Written by Ed Campbell

September 19, 2011 at 6:00 pm

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft sends close-up of giant asteroid Vesta

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned the first close-up image after beginning its orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta. On Friday, July 15, Dawn became the first probe to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The image taken for navigation purposes shows Vesta in greater detail than ever before. When Vesta captured Dawn into its orbit, there were approximately 16,000 kilometers between the spacecraft and asteroid. Engineers estimate the orbit capture took place at 10 p.m. PDT Friday, July 15.

Vesta is 530 kilometers in diameter and the second most massive object in the asteroid belt. Ground- and space-based telescopes have obtained images of Vesta for about two centuries, but they have not been able to see much detail on its surface.

We are beginning the study of arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the solar system,” said Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell from the University of California, Los Angeles. “This region of space has been ignored for far too long. So far, the images received to date reveal a complex surface that seems to have preserved some of the earliest events in Vesta’s history, as well as logging the onslaught that Vesta has suffered in the intervening eons…”

Although orbit capture is complete, the approach phase will continue for about three weeks. During approach, the Dawn team will continue a search for possible moons around the asteroid; obtain more images for navigation; observe Vesta’s physical properties; and obtain calibration data…

Rock on, folks! Keep us ordinary folks up with what we need to keep our space curiosity bump happy.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 18, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Newfound asteroid has been Earth’s companion for 250,000 years

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Horseshoe shape of how the orbit appears from Earth

Astronomers from the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland have found that a recently discovered asteroid has been following the Earth in its motion around the Sun for at least the past 250,000 years, and may be intimately related to the origin of our planet…

The asteroid first caught the eye of the scientists, Apostolos “Tolis” Christou and David Asher, two months after it was found by the WISE infrared survey satellite, launched in 2009 by the United States. “Its average distance from the Sun is identical to that of the Earth”, says Dr Christou, “but what really impressed me at the time was how Earth-like its orbit was”. Most near-Earth Asteroids – NEAs for short – have very eccentric, or egg-shaped, orbits that take the asteroid right through the inner solar system. But the new object, designated 2010 SO16, is different. Its orbit is almost circular so that it cannot come close to any other planet in the solar system except the Earth.

… So while on the one hand its orbit is remarkably similar to Earth’s, in fact “this asteroid is terraphobic”, explains Tolis. “It keeps well away from the Earth. So well, in fact, that it has likely been in this orbit for several hundred thousand years, never coming closer to our planet than 50 times the distance to the Moon”. This is where it is now, near the end of the horseshoe trailing the Earth…

… 2010 SO16 could represent leakage from a population of objects near the so-called triangular equilibrium points 60 degrees ahead of and behind the Earth in its orbit. Such a population has been postulated in the past but never observed as such objects are always near the Sun in the sky. If they do exist, they may represent relic material from the formation of Earth, Moon and the other inner planets 4.5 billion years ago.

For the time being, the astronomers would like to see the physical properties of the object studied from the ground, especially its colour. “Colour, a measure of an asteroid’s reflectivity across the electromagnetic spectrum, can tell you a lot about its origin”, they explain. “With this information we can start testing possible origin scenarios with hard data. If it proves to be unique in some way, it may be worth sending a probe to study it up close, and perhaps bring back a sample for laboratory scrutiny.”

Probably at least as interesting as, say, who might appear on Dancing With The Stars next season. And a lot more useful.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

A winter treat as Geminid meteors sparkle in December sky

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Flaming rocks will soon begin hurtling toward the Earth with the arrival of the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the biggest of the year.

The peak of the week-long shower will come just before dawn on Tuesday, but the shooting stars will also be visible across the world late in the weekend, says Rebecca Johnson, editor of StarDate magazine from the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas.

Where skies are clear, the viewing will be best “before dawn on Tuesday. It starts to get light an hour before sunrise, so any time before that is going to be a good time to look,” she says…

Meteors of course aren’t falling stars. In the case of the Geminid shower, they’re tiny pieces of debris breaking off an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon as it orbits the sun. Although the shower was first seen in the 1860s, the asteroid wasn’t discovered until 1983…

But what’s producing the meteor showers hardly matters considering how lovely they are. For those who can’t make it out Tuesday morning, the meteors will be visible for two days before the peak and a day or two afterwards, just not as plentiful.

It’s “a great shower that many people never see” because they come during cold weather, says NASA’s Bill Cooke. “The Perseids get all the press. It’s much nicer to be out on a warm August night then to be freezing your rear in December.”

Uh, yes.

Although we get up well before dawn – and it’s worth stumbling around outside to see what we can see.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 11, 2010 at 6:00 am

Asteroid Lutetia – up close and personal

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Asteroid Lutetia has been revealed as a battered world of many craters. ESA’s Rosetta mission has returned the first close-up images of the asteroid showing it is most probably a primitive survivor from the violent birth of the Solar System.

The flyby was a spectacular success with Rosetta performing faultlessly…

The images show that Lutetia is heavily cratered, having suffered many impacts during its 4.5 billion years of existence. As Rosetta drew close, a giant bowl-shaped depression stretching across much of the asteroid rotated into view. The images confirm that Lutetia is an elongated body, with its longest side around 130km.

“I think this is a very old object. Tonight we have seen a remnant of the Solar System’s creation,” says Holger Sierks, OSIRIS principal investigator, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Lindau, Germany.

Rosetta raced past the asteroid at 15 km/s completing the flyby in just a minute. But the cameras and other instruments had been working for hours and in some cases days beforehand, and will continue afterwards. Shortly after closest approach, Rosetta began transmitting data to Earth for processing…

The flyby marks the attainment of one of Rosetta’s main scientific objectives. The spacecraft will now continue to a 2014 rendezvous with its primary target, comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will then accompany the comet for months, from near the orbit of Jupiter down to its closest approach to the Sun. In November 2014, Rosetta will release Philae to land on the comet nucleus.

RTFA. Lots of great photos.

As the ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, David Southwood, said – “It has been a great day for exploration, a great day for European science.”

Extending, expanding knowledge of our solar system is a natural goal for inquiring scientific minds. Every step forward opens more avenues for study and learning, understanding the context of our evolution.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 11, 2010 at 9:00 am

40% of Americans think Jesus will be back by 2050!

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More than 40 per cent of Americans believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth by 2050, according to a poll.

Americans are largely optimistic about the future, according to the poll from the Pew Research Center For The People and The Press/Smithsonian Magazine.

By mid century, 71 per cent believe cancer will be cured, 66 per cent say artificial limbs will work better than real ones and 81 per cent believe computers will be able to converse like humans.

But Americans are also braced for a major energy crisis and a warming planet, according to the survey. More than half, or 58 per cent, fear another world war in the next 40 years and 53 per cent expect a terrorist attack against the United States using a nuclear weapon…

Here are some other findings of the poll:

• Nearly three-quarters, or 74 per cent, of those polled believe it likely that “most of our energy will come from sources other than coal, oil, and gas”.
• Yet 72 per cent believe the world is likely to experience a major worldwide energy crisis by 2050.
• 66 per cent say the Earth will definitely or probably get warmer but it breaks down strongly along political lines, with just 48 per cent of Republicans saying so and 83 per cent of Democrats.
• 41 per cent say Jesus Christ will return within the next 40 years while 46 per cent say this will definitely or probably not happen.
• 31 per cent expect the planet will be struck by an asteroid.

Lots of supposedly interesting opinions resulting from one of the least useful polls ever conducted by Pew Research.

Anyone who stays current with Talking Heads, Reality TV, fundamentalist preachers and Tea Party agitprop already has a decent idea of what fills the empty space in American conversation in between sports seasons and presidential elections. And could have written up the results of this poll in advance.

Written by Ed Campbell

June 22, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Japanese Hayabusa asteroid mission comes home

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Itokawa photographed from Hayabusa – 500 meters long

A capsule thought to contain the first samples grabbed from the surface of an asteroid has returned to Earth.

The Japanese Hayabusa container hit the top of the atmosphere just after 1350 GMT, producing a bright fireball over southern Australia.

It had a shield to cope with the heat of re-entry and a parachute for the final drop to the ground.

A recovery team later reported they had identified the landing zone in the Woomera Prohibited Range.

“We just had a spectacular display out over the Outback skies of South Australia,” said Professor Trevor Ireland, from the Australian National University, who will get to work on the samples

“We could see the little sample-return capsule separate from the main ship and lead its way in; and [we] just had this magnificent display of the break-up of Hayabusa,” he told BBC News.

The Hayabusa mission was launched to asteroid Itokawa in 2003, spending three months at the 500m-long potato-shaped space rock in 2005.

The main spacecraft, along with the sample-storage capsule, should have come back to Earth in 2007, but a succession of technical problems delayed their return by three years.

Even now, there is still some uncertainty as to whether the capsule really does contain pieces of Itokawa.

RTFA. Terrific tale of engineering and science expertise laboring three years to bring an experiment home.

Who knows? They’ll be out looking for the capsule parachuted into the desert, tomorrow morning. With luck – samples from an asteroid will be there for study.

Written by Ed Campbell

June 13, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Missed us by that much…

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One that didn’t miss

A newly discovered asteroid designated 2009 VA, which is only about 7 meters in size, passed about 2 Earth radii (14,000 km) from the Earth’s surface Nov. 6 at around 16:30 EST. This is the third-closest known (non-impacting) Earth approach on record for a cataloged asteroid…

On average, objects the size of 2009 VA pass this close about twice per year and impact Earth about once every 5 years.

Asteroid 2009 VA was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey about 15 hours before the close approach, and was quickly identified by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge MA as an object that would soon pass very close to the Earth. JPL’s Near-Earth Object Program Office also computed an orbit solution for this object, and determined that it was not headed for an impact.

Phew!

Written by Ed Campbell

November 13, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Geek, Science

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First-ever asteroid tracked from space to Earth impact

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Students from Khartoum lined up to begin the hunt

For the first time, scientists were able to track an asteroid from space to the ground and recover pieces of it. The bits are unlike anything ever found on Earth.

The asteroid was spotted entering Earth’s atmosphere over Sudan in October and was believed to have fully disintegrated, but an international team found almost 280 pieces of meteorite in a 11-square-mile section of Sudan’s Nubian Desert. The largest was the size of an egg. Lab analysis showed that the rocks belong to a rare class of asteroid that has never been sampled in such a pristine state, so it could fill some gaps in our understanding of the solar system’s early history…

Finding the meteorites was a long shot, but because the rocks would be so important, meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens of SETI, lead author of the study, took a bus loaded with 45 students and staff from the University of Khartoum deep into the desert to hunt for them. A 10-hour bus ride and an 18-mile trek through the sand took them to the remote area where scientists thought the rocks, if they existed,
would be. The group began sweeping the desert in a line and two hours later the first meteorite was found by a student.

“It was very, very exciting. Everybody was celebrating,” Jenniskens said. “You have to remember how important it is to find a piece linked to an asteroid we have seen in space.”

These fragments are pristine, virtually as they were through an eternity in space. Little time for any contamination by Earth minerals or oxidizers. Read the whole article.

What a fantastic experience, especially for those students.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 25, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Science

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Asteroid hits Earth … but at least we predicted it, say scientists

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Fireball during the Leonid meteor shower

Scientists were today celebrating the first successful prediction of an asteroid smashing into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The chunk of space debris burst in a spectacular fireball though it was no more than 15ft across. And it had an impact out of all proportion to its size as it enabled experts to prove they could warn of potentially catastrophic asteroid strikes…

It’s the first time we’ve been able to predict an impactor in advance,’ said Donald Yeomans, manager of Nasa’s Near Earth Object programme, which tracks asteroids and comets that come close to our planet.

Tim Spahr, head of Harvard’s Minor Planet Centre, added: ‘If this were something larger and it was going to hit the ground we would be able to get people out of the way.’

The asteroid – labeled 2008 TC3 – was spotted yesterday a little farther away from Earth than the Moon by a U.S. observatory in Arizona.

I spotted the earlier articles, yesterday; but, decided to wait until the event took place and was observed – to Post about the asteroid. I’ll bet there are a number of observers who acquired decent still photos and video footage.

I’ll keep checking and eventually replace the stock image I used up top.

Written by Ed Campbell

October 7, 2008 at 8:00 am

Posted in Earth, Science

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