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Worried About Asteroid 2014 JO25? Don’t Be.

Concept image of a large asteroid passing by Earth and the Moon (NASA/Jason Major)

SPACE NEWS FLASH: On Wednesday, April 19, the asteroid 2014 JO25 will pass by Earth, coming as close as about 1.1 million miles at 12:24 UTC (8:24 a.m. EDT / 5:24 a.m. PDT). Yes, this asteroid is fairly large—just under half a mile across—and is traveling very fast—about 21 miles a second— BUT even so it poses no danger to Earth as 1.1 million miles is still over four and a half times the distance to the Moon…and it’s simply not going to get any closer than that.

It’s. Just. Not.

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Astronomers Find an Earth-Sized World with a Venus-sized Atmosphere

Artist’s concept of GJ 1132b. (Credit: Dana Berry)

Using ground-based telescopes, an international team of astronomers has identified an atmosphere around the exoplanet GJ 1132b. Orbiting a red dwarf star a mere 39 light-years away this world is only about half again as large and massive as Earth, making it the smallest exoplanet to be discovered thus far with an atmosphere.

Unfortunately that likely means that although GJ 1132b is Earth-sized it’s not Earth-like. In order to even be detected in the manner that it was the atmosphere must be extremely thick, making this exoplanet more similar to Venus than Earth.

“An atmosphere that we would think of as Earth-like would be completely invisible to these observations, and to all other currently existing telescopes,” said Tom Louden, a physicist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England (who wasn’t involved in the study.)

Read the full article by George Dvorsky on Gizmodo here.

So No New Earth Trojans, But OSIRIS-REx’s MapCam Surpassed Expectations

Asteroid 12 Victoria, imaged by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Feb. 11. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

Remember when I mentioned that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was going to be scanning for “Trojan” asteroids at Earth-Sun L4? Well the results are in and survey says: no new Trojans (besides 2010 TK7, which we already knew about.) But the search wasn’t in vain—it gave mission scientists a chance put the spacecraft’s OCAMS instruments to the test and they passed with flying colors.

In fact the MapCam camera did so well it was able to image 17 main belt asteroids from L4, some two full magnitudes dimmer than expected.

“The Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search was a significant success for the OSIRIS-REx mission,” said OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “In this first practical exercise of the mission’s science operations, the mission team learned so much about this spacecraft’s capabilities and flight operations that we are now ahead of the game for when we get to Bennu.”

Read the full story on the OSIRIS-REx site here: OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Search Tests Instruments, Science Team

This Blazing Quasar Got Wave Motion Gunned Clear Out Of Its Galaxy

Hubble image of quasar 3C 186 racing out of from its host galaxy, 8 billion light-years away from Earth. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Chiaberge (STScI and JHU).

Astronomers still have yet to directly capture an image of a black hole—they’re working on it—but they know where some of the largest ones are: inside the hearts of galaxies, where they power brilliant and powerful quasars whose light can be seen across the Universe. Some of these supermassive black holes (SMBs) can contain the mass of millions if not billions of Sun-sized stars and, when two galaxies happen to collide (which they often do) their respective resident SMBs can end up locked in an orbital embrace. As their spinning dance grows tighter and tighter they send out gravitational waves, rippling the very fabric of space and time itself (the LIGO experiment announced the first detection of these waves in 2016.) But if the gravitational waves are uneven, say because the two merging SMBs are of vastly different masses and/or individually spinning in different orientations (a possible but not common scenario) then the super-duper-supermassive black hole that results from the merger can end up getting one serious cosmic-scale kick after the event occurs and the waves shut off—perhaps a strong enough kick to send it hurtling out of the galaxy altogether.

That’s what astronomers think we’re witnessing here in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope.

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2017 NASA Transition Act Includes Plans to Preserve Apollo Sites

Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan saluting the U.S. flag on the Moon, Dec. 11, 1972. (NASA)

From July 1969 to December 1972, 12 American astronauts landed in six different locations on the lunar surface as part of NASA’s Apollo program, leaving their footprints and taking samples and data that are still being used today to learn about the Moon. The Apollo landing sites remain exactly as they were left over four decades ago—footprints, rover tracks, discarded equipment and all—and with a new generation of space explorers around the world setting their sights on the Moon it’s important that we make sure these six off-world locations are preserved, just as would be done with any historic artifact.

“President Donald Trump on Tuesday, March 21 signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which includes a section [Sec. 831] directing the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) [a position yet to be filled] to assess the issues that relate to “protecting and preserving historically important Apollo program lunar landing sites and Apollo program artifacts residing on the lunar surface, including those pertaining to Apollo 11 and Apollo 17,” the first and last missions to land astronauts on the [M]oon.” (via CollectSpace)

While this is only a plan for an assessment to take place, it’s a(nother) first step in making sure our first footprints on another world aren’t lost to careless or malicious future lunar visitors, whether human or robotic.

You can find the full text of the bill here.

Read the full story on CollectSpace: White House to look at how best to ‘protect and preserve’ Apollo moon landing sites

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