Category Archives: Asteroids

SOFIA Observations of Ceres Show You Can’t Judge an Asteroid by Its Cover(ing)

Animated sequence of images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft showing northern terrain on the sunlit side of Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Animated sequence of Ceres from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The dwarf planet Ceres, at 587 miles wide the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, has a different surface composition than previously thought—and it took NASA and DLR’s Boeing 747-based SOFIA observatory to make the distinction. By observing Ceres in mid-infrared, only possible from high altitudes above infrared-absorbing water vapor, SOFIA found that Ceres is covered in silicates—pyroxenes—that likely came from impacts, the result of infalling material from elsewhere in the asteroid belt…the “dust” of asteroid collisions.

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Could This Asteroid Hit Earth? Astronomers Go “Back in Time” to Find the Answer

Potentially hazardous asteroid 2016 WJ1 was discovered in Oct. 2016—but also in July 2003. Credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope

Astronomers are always watching the skies for observations of near-Earth asteroids—”space rocks” that have orbits close to Earth’s and, in the case of potentially hazardous asteroids (aka PHAs), those whose orbits could actually cross Earth’s and are larger than 150 meters (500 ft) across. When a new one of these is discovered—no small feat considering that many are very dark, move quickly, and could really be anywhere in the sky—it’s a scramble to determine the object’s orbital parameters and figure out just how close it can get to us and when. Such was the case on Oct. 19, 2016, when the asteroid 2016 WJ1 was identified with the Catalina Sky Survey. This object, estimated to be anywhere from 110 to 340 meters across—easily within the potentially hazardous range—was initially calculated to pose a threat in 2065 with a possible impact risk, albeit a very small one. Eventually though, scientists were able to refine the risk chance with more observations of 2016 WJ1…observations that had actually occurred over 13 years earlier.

Read the full story from ESA here: Asteroid sleuths go back to the future

Asteroid 16 Psyche Could Truly Be a Psychedelic Little World—AND Worth Quadrillions

Artist’s rendering of the metal asteroid 16 Psyche. (Credit: Arizona State University)

NASA recently announced the go-ahead for a new Discovery-level mission that would send a spacecraft to explore 16 Psyche, a 130-mile-wide asteroid in the Solar System’s main belt between Mars and Jupiter. 16 Psyche is a relatively small world but is made almost entirely of metals—some of them what we’d consider precious on Earth, like nickel, gold, and platinum—and not only would that make it a fantastic-looking place with mountainous ridges of nickel and valleys filled with green olivine and yellow sulfur deposits, but also incredibly valuable…some estimates place 16 Psyche as “worth” up to $10,000 quadrillion.

Yes that’s quadrillion, as in one thousand trillion. (And times ten thousand!)

Read the rest of this story by Irene Klotz on Seeker here: Step Aside Iron Man, NASA’s Going to Explore a Strange Iron World

Does Earth Have a New Moon? Kinda But Not Really

Concept image of a large asteroid passing by Earth and the Moon

Earth currently has a new asteroid companion in its orbit around the Sun (Illustration composite of NASA and ESO images by J. Major)

This week NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced news of an object traveling around the Sun in an orbit that keeps it relatively close to our own planet. The object, a near-Earth asteroid (NEO) less than 300 feet (100 m) across, is designated 2016 HO3 and has in some reports been called a “new” or “mini” moon of Earth…but that’s not entirely true. More accurately 2016 HO3 is what’s known as a quasi-satellite, and is in a temporary (albeit long-lived by human standards) orbit that takes it on a “leapfrog” path around Earth, never getting closer than 38 times the distance to the Moon—about 9.1 million miles.

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Ceres’ Bright Spot Looks Like a Giant Zit

High-resolution, expanded-color view of the bright spot in Ceres' Occator crater

High-resolution, expanded-color view of the bright spot in Ceres’ Occator crater. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI.

After more than a dozen years of head-scratching we finally have our first really good look at the weird bright spot on Ceres, thanks to NASA’s Dawn spacecraft and its low-altitude mapping orbit (aka LAMO) around the dwarf planet. Appearing from 240 miles up as a dome covered in cracks and rising from the surrounding darker terrain, the largest of Ceres’ bright spots looks not unlike… a giant pimple.

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Ceres Displays Unexpected Flare-ups in Brightness to Ground-Based Survey

Bright reflective material in Ceres' Occator crater, imaged by NASA's Dawn spacecraft in Sept .2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Reflective material in Ceres’ 90-km-wide Occator crater, imaged by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft in Sept .2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Researchers using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument on ESO’s 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla have detected “unexpected” changes in the brightness of Ceres during observations made in July and August of 2015. Variations in line with Ceres’ 9-hour rotational period were expected, but other fluctuations in brightness were also found that indicate albedo changes on a daily, diurnal basis.

Long story short: Ceres is slowly “blinking.”

Read the rest of this article here.

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