Scientists Totally Surprised By Saturn Like Rings Found Around Asteroid

by Sid Perkins

Even before astronomers pointed their telescopes at a dim star over Chile last June, they knew it would darken for a few seconds as an asteroid passed in front of it. What they didn’t expect were two brief flickers a few seconds beforehand and afterward, suggesting that the asteroid was encircled by Saturn-like rings. The find is the first evidence for such rings around anything in our solar system other than a giant planet.

Like other teams positioned in a 1500-kilometer-wide swath across South America, the astronomers had started out the night with one mission: They intended to measure the size of Chariklo, an icy body that circles the sun between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus. Knowing Chariklo’s speed across the sky, they could use the duration of the mini-eclipse to estimate the distant asteroid’s size, says Felipe Braga-Ribas, an astronomer at the National Observatory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“But then we saw the flickers,” he says. Because the team members weren’t looking for a ring, the discovery came as a complete surprise, he notes…

(read more: Science News/AAAS)

illustrations by Lucie Maquet

A Rare Sight:  Hubble Space Telescope Sees Asteroid Falling Apart

by Mike Wall

In a cosmic first, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the disintegration of an asteroid in deep space.

Astronomers have seen comets break apart as they near the sun, but they’d never witnessed anything similar in an asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter — until now. Hubble images show that the asteroid, known as P/2013 R3, has fragmented into as many as 10 pieces. Scientists created a video of the rare asteroid P/2013 R3’ breakup based on the Hubble views to chronicle the space rock’s demise.

(read more/see video: Live Science)

image: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA)

Painted Stone: Asteroids in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey

from Alex Parker

Over 100,000 asteroids and their colors, as seen by a single remarkable survey telescope.

This animation shows the orbital motions of over 100,000 of the asteroids observed by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), with colors illustrating the compositional diversity measured by the SDSS five-color camera. The relative sizes of each asteroid are also illustrated.

All main-belt asteroids and Trojan asteroids with orbits known to high precision are shown. The animation is rendered with a timestep of 3 days. The compositional gradient of the asteroid belt is clearly visible, with green Vesta-family members in the inner belt fading through the blue C-class asteroids in the outer belt, and the deep red Trojan swarms beyond that…

(read more: Vimeo)

Strange Metal Asteroid Targeted in Far-Out NASA Mission Concept

by Mike Wall

One of the strangest objects in the solar system may get its first closeup in the coming years.

A team of scientists is mapping out a mission to the huge metallic asteroid Psyche, which is thought to be the exposed iron core of a battered and stripped protoplanet. The proposed mission would reveal insights about planet formation processes and the early days of the solar system, its designers say, and would also afford the first-ever good look at an odd class of celestial objects.

"This is the first metal world humankind will have ever seen," team member Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, told SPACE.com last month at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco. "I think this is an opportunity to do some fundamental science that hasn’t been done before."…

(read more: Live Science)

images: Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Corby Waste

Water Vapor Detected Around Solar System’s Largest Asteroid
by Ken Crosswell
It’s not much—just 6 kg per second—but there’s water vapor coming off two regions of Ceres, the solar system’s largest asteroid. As astronomers report online today in Nature, the Herschel Space Observatory has discerned a watery spectral line at the far-infrared wavelength of 538 microns.
Ceres revolves around the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter every 4.6 years. The asteroid’s path is somewhat elliptical, so its distance from the sun varies. Sunlight warms Ceres most when the asteroid comes closest, which was around the time Herschel detected the water vapor (shown with exaggerated clarity in this artist’s conception)…
(read more: Science NEWS/AAAS)
image: IMCCE-Observatoire de Paris/CNRS/Y.Gominet, B. Carry

Water Vapor Detected Around Solar System’s Largest Asteroid

by Ken Crosswell

It’s not much—just 6 kg per second—but there’s water vapor coming off two regions of Ceres, the solar system’s largest asteroid. As astronomers report online today in Nature, the Herschel Space Observatory has discerned a watery spectral line at the far-infrared wavelength of 538 microns.

Ceres revolves around the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter every 4.6 years. The asteroid’s path is somewhat elliptical, so its distance from the sun varies. Sunlight warms Ceres most when the asteroid comes closest, which was around the time Herschel detected the water vapor (shown with exaggerated clarity in this artist’s conception)…

(read more: Science NEWS/AAAS)

image: IMCCE-Observatoire de Paris/CNRS/Y.Gominet, B. Carry

Hubble sees asteroid spouting six comet-like tails (Phys.org) — Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have identified what they can only describe as a never-before-seen “weird and freakish object” in the asteroid belt that looks like a rotating lawn sprinkler.
Normal asteroids should appear simply as tiny points of light. But this asteroid, designated P/2013 P5, has six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like spokes on a wheel.Because nothing like this has ever been seen before, astronomers are scratching their heads to find an adequate explanation for its out-of-this-world appearance… (read more) Image: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)

Hubble sees asteroid spouting six comet-like tails

(Phys.org) — Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have identified what they can only describe as a never-before-seen “weird and freakish object” in the asteroid belt that looks like a rotating lawn sprinkler.

Normal asteroids should appear simply as tiny points of light. But this asteroid, designated P/2013 P5, has six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like spokes on a wheel.Because nothing like this has ever been seen before, astronomers are scratching their heads to find an adequate explanation for its out-of-this-world appearance… (read more)

Image: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)

NASA Announces Plan for Capturing Asteroid
The space agency wants to tow an asteroid back to our planetary neighborhood.
by Marc Kaufman
NASA wants to identify an asteroid in deep space, figure out a way to capture the spinning and hard-to-grab orb, nudge it into our planetary region, and then set it into orbit around the moon, the agency announced Wednesday.

The capture would be performed robotically, and the relocated asteroid would become a destination for astronauts to explore—and, possibly, for space entrepreneurs to mine.

The idea may sound more like science fiction than national policy, but it actually fits in with key goals of the Obama administration and the space community.
Those goals include learning how to identify asteroids heading toward us and to change their course, finding destinations where astronauts can go as they try to learn how to make the longer trip to Mars, and providing opportunities for space investors…
(read more: National Geo)                          (image: NASA)

NASA Announces Plan for Capturing Asteroid

The space agency wants to tow an asteroid back to our planetary neighborhood.

by Marc Kaufman

NASA wants to identify an asteroid in deep space, figure out a way to capture the spinning and hard-to-grab orb, nudge it into our planetary region, and then set it into orbit around the moon, the agency announced Wednesday.

The capture would be performed robotically, and the relocated asteroid would become a destination for astronauts to explore—and, possibly, for space entrepreneurs to mine.

The idea may sound more like science fiction than national policy, but it actually fits in with key goals of the Obama administration and the space community.

Those goals include learning how to identify asteroids heading toward us and to change their course, finding destinations where astronauts can go as they try to learn how to make the longer trip to Mars, and providing opportunities for space investors…

(read more: National Geo)                          (image: NASA)

Rock that Ended Reign of the Dinosaurs Was a Comet

by Paul Rincon

The space rock that hit Earth 65 million years ago and is widely implicated in the end of the dinosaurs was likely a speeding comet.

That is the conclusion of research which suggests the 180km-wide Chicxulub crater in Mexico was carved out by a smaller object than previously thought. Many scientists consider a large and relatively slow moving asteroid to have been the likely culprit.

Details were outlined at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

But other researchers were more cautious about the results.

"The overall aim of our project is to better characterise the impactor that produced the crater in the Yucatan peninsula [in Mexico]," Jason Moore, from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, told BBC News.

The space rock gave rise to a global layer of sediments enriched in the chemical element iridium, in concentrations much higher than naturally occurs; it must have come from outer space…

(read more: BBC News)                               (images: SPL)

Efforts to Protect Earth From Asteroids Are Under Way. But Will It Be Enough?
by Adam Mann
In the wake of Earth’s largest meteor strike in more than a century, the world’s attention has turned skyward.
The 17-meter bolide exploded in the air over the Chelyabinsk region of Russia on Feb. 15, shattering windows and injuring around 1,000 people. But had the meteor come in at a slightly different angle, the space rock could have impacted the ground and the fallout could have been much worse.
More money is already flowing toward future asteroid detection and mitigation strategies, but we may never be able to fully protect ourselves.
There are plenty of programs already in place for monitoring relatively large near-Earth objects, and more will be coming online soon, both from government space agencies and the private sector. However, even the best efforts will not be able to catch objects the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor — rocks that are small enough to evade detection by current technology until they are streaking through Earth’s atmosphere, but large enough to be dangerous…
(read more: Wired Science)        

Efforts to Protect Earth From Asteroids Are Under Way. But Will It Be Enough?

by Adam Mann

In the wake of Earth’s largest meteor strike in more than a century, the world’s attention has turned skyward.

The 17-meter bolide exploded in the air over the Chelyabinsk region of Russia on Feb. 15, shattering windows and injuring around 1,000 people. But had the meteor come in at a slightly different angle, the space rock could have impacted the ground and the fallout could have been much worse.

More money is already flowing toward future asteroid detection and mitigation strategies, but we may never be able to fully protect ourselves.

There are plenty of programs already in place for monitoring relatively large near-Earth objects, and more will be coming online soon, both from government space agencies and the private sector. However, even the best efforts will not be able to catch objects the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor — rocks that are small enough to evade detection by current technology until they are streaking through Earth’s atmosphere, but large enough to be dangerous…

(read more: Wired Science)        

Asteroid Impact That Killed the Dinosaurs: New Evidence

by Charles Choi

The idea that a cosmic impact ended the age of dinosaurs in what is now Mexico now has fresh new support, researchers say.

The most recent and most familiar mass extinction is the one that finished the reign of the dinosaurs — the end-Cretaceous or Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event, often known as K-T. The only survivors among the dinosaurs are the birds.

Currently, the main suspect behind this catastrophe is a cosmic impact from an asteroid or comet, an idea first proposed by physicist Luis Alvarez and his son geologist Walter Alvarez. Scientists later found that signs of this collision seemed evident near the town of Chicxulub (CHEEK-sheh-loob) in Mexico in the form of a gargantuan crater more than 110 miles (180 kilometers) wide. The explosion, likely caused by an object about 6 miles (10 km) across, would have released as much energy as 100 trillion tons of TNT, more than a billion times more than the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

(read more: Live Science)              

(images: Illustration by Don Davis; photo by Paule Renne)

Asteroid 2012 DA14 to sweep close on Feb. 15, 2013

by Deborah Byrd

A near-Earth asteroid – called 2012 DA14 by astronomers – will pass very close to Earth on February 15, 2013. Astronomers estimate that, when it’s closest to us, it’ll be within the orbit of the moon (which is about 240,000 mi away), and within the orbits of geosynchronous satellites (about 26,000 mi up). 2012 DA14 will be about 21,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) away.

It will not strike Earth in 2013. Astronomers’ calculations of asteroid orbits can be trusted. After all, even decades ago, they knew enough about calculating orbits to send people to the moon and bring them safely back, and today we are able place our space vehicles in orbit around objects as small as asteroids.

So, no, 2012 DA14 won’t strike us in 2013. There was a remote possibility it might strike us in 2020, but that possibility has been ruled out also.

What will happen when it passes us? The short answer is … nothing. On the day it passes, most of us won’t see it or be aware of its passage, in any way. The asteroid won’t alter the tides. It won’t cause volcanoes. It’ll just sweep closely past us – as millions of asteroids have done throughout Earth’s four-and-a-half-billion-year history – some in your own lifetime…

(read more: EarthSky)                                  (images: NASA)