An Asteroid Approaches Your Planet: Roll a d10

It sounds like a surprise challenge posed by the “Dungeon Master” in a game of Dungeons & Dragons but this is sort of what happened on a cosmic scale on Feb. 6, 2017, when the 200-meter (656-foot) -wide asteroid 2017 BQ6 passed by Earth. Using the radar imaging capabilities of the giant 70-meter antenna at…

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Will Search for Asteroids Caught In Earth’s Orbit

Launched on Sept. 8, 2016, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is heading out into the main asteroid belt beyond the orbit of Mars to meet up with the 1,600-foot-wide asteroid Bennu. Ultimately OSIRIS-REx will map and collect a sample of Bennu’s surface, returning it to Earth in 2023. But while it’s still traveling through near-Earth space in…

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

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…

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

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…

Does Earth Have a New Moon? Kinda But Not Really

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”…

Ceres’ Bright Spot Looks Like a Giant Zit

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…

NASA Hits Halloween Asteroid With Radar

On the afternoon of Oct. 31, 2015, Earth was visited by something much creepier than the typical Halloween trick-or-treater: a dark 2,000-foot (600-meter) -wide asteroid that sped silently (because space) by, approaching at its closest only about 1.3 times the distance to the Moon. Designated 2015 TB145, this particular near-Earth object had only just been…