Tag Archives: asteroid

Enormous Asteroid Discovered Last Week Will Whizz Past Earth On Halloween

Two asteroids will pass by Earth this Halloween. The first is 2009 FD, a peculiarly dark asteroid, which will make its closest approach onOctober 29. The second, 2015 TB145, will fly-by on Halloween.Thetwo asteroids won’t be visible to the naked eye, even at their closest approach. The astronomical events have been announced in NASA’s Goldstone Radar Observation Plan.

2009 FD will approach within 6,194,000 km of Earth,about 16.3 times further away than the Moon. The asteroid was discovered in February 2009, a month before its closest recorded approach to Earth onMarch27, 2009, at a distance of624,100 km. 2015 TB145 will pass about 500,000 km from Earth, just beyond the lunar orbit.

2009 FD has been tracked by several instruments since its discovery. It was first estimated to be 130 metersin size byNASAs Near Earth Program.A better estimate for its size came from NASAs NEOWISE, which gave a value of 470 meters, although this is considered an upper limit.

2015 TB145 was discovered just over a week ago by the Pan-STARRS I telescope in Hawaii, and it has an estimated size of 320 meters. The passing of 2015 TB145 will be the closest approach by something this largeuntil asteroid August 2027, when 1999 AN10 will passwithin onelunar distance (380,000 km). NASA has given these objects a value of 1 on the Torino Scale, which is the value assigned to non-dangerous asteroids.

The Torino scaleis an integer 0-10 scale used to communicate the risk of an impact to the general public. So far, no object has been rated over 4.

Both objects will be tracked and studied by the Goldstone Observatory in California.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/halloween-asteroids-are-not-scaring-us

Herschel detects that Ceres has large amounts of water

Ceres has always been believed to have an icy, rocky surface and now new evidence finally confirms that this is true. Scientists using the Herschel Space Telescope have detected ice on the surface and water vapor in the dwarf planet’s atmosphere. The study was led by Michael Küppers of the ESA and the results were published in Nature.

Ceres is the largest and roundest body within the main asteroid belt which exists between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. First discovered in 1801, Ceres was classified as a planet. It would later be reclassified as the first named asteroid by Sir William Herschel. In 2006, the meeting of the International Astronomical Union voted on specific definitions for different planetary bodies, resulting in yet another reclassification of Ceres, this time as a dwarf planet. This was the same meeting that reclassified Pluto to dwarf planet status as well. Ceres has only about 1% of the mass of the moon with an estimated surface area about the size of Argentina.

Though Ceres has always been believed to have ice on the surface, it has never actually been shown before. The researchers used the Herschel Space Telescope to study radiation deflecting off of Ceres and found that the wavelength indicated the presence of water vapor. Not only does the dwarf planet have ice, it has a lot of it. Researchers believe that surrounding its rocky core is a mantle of ice so thick, it could very well hold more water than Earth does.

The plumes of water vapor are a bit of a mystery to the astronomers and has raised a lot of questions about how they appear. It could be that part of the dwarf planet’s orbit brings it slightly closer to the sun, which warms up the ice and then vents off as steam, though there could be radioactivity within the core that causes the sublimated water to be expelled. Water vapor does not appear to be venting all the time and the amount coming out does not seem to be held constant. The vents do not appear sporadically and appear to be restricted to two separate areas. At maximum, the vents were observed to release about 6 kilograms (13.2 pounds) of water per second. 

In 2007, NASA launched the Dawn space probe with a mission of studying Ceres and Vesta, a large asteroid. Dawn will study the geology, chemical composition, and atmospheres of these two proto-planets in order to better understand planetary formation. The spacecraft is expected to rendezvous with the dwarf planet in February of 2015. This is incredibly good timing, as scientists won’t really have to wait long to take up close measurements and follow up with these preliminary observations. Information collected from Dawn will help researchers understand how water was distributed throughout the solar system, and how it ended up on a planet capable of retaining it as a liquid: the prerequisite for life as we know it.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/herschel-detects-ceres-has-large-amounts-water

LADEE’s Mission to the Moon

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will perform a relatively short mission to the moon in order to study conditions near the lunar surface and its atmosphere. This information will help scientists understand other bodies in the solar system like asteroids and moons of the most distant planets. 


LADEE was launched at 11:27 pm EDT off the coast of Virginia and the event was visible to tens of millions of people. Shortly after launch when LADEE (pronounced like “laddie”) detached from the rocket, there was a minor issue with the reaction wheels being turned off due to a safeguarding program. The program was disabled and LADEE’s reaction wheels came back online and are working properly.


After about one month of travel LADEE began its orbit. This was monitored with a skeleton crew as 97% of NASA’s staff was furloughed in the recent shutdown of the United States government. 

LADEE just made space communication history by using lasers to communicate with Earth from its lunar orbit faster than ever before. Pulsed laser beams sent data 239,000 miles (384,633 kilometers) back to Earth’s surface at a rate of 622 megabits per second. For comparison, 4G LTE downloads run about 10-17 megabits per second.

LADEE’s mission is broken up into five phases: pre-launch; launch, ascent & acquisition; commissioning; science operations; and extended mission or end of life. 

During its 100 science day mission, LADEE will inspect the atmosphere and dust environment on the moon from a variety of altitudes. Eventually, it will go as low as 12 miles (19 km) off the surface of the moon to collect information. Following the science phase, if it does not receive an extended mission, LADEE’s altitude will be gradually lowered until it finally comes to rest on the lunar surface, though it will not be targeted to land in any particular place.


The spacecraft itself is unique in that it was not custom created like many other spacecraft. It was fashioned from parts that can be created on an assembly line for a variety of different applications, which made it considerably less expensive to manufacture. This approach will allow NASA to create spacecraft that look relatively similar but can be customized based on what is needed for a specific mission. LADEE weighs in at about 844 pounds (383 kilograms) and uses around 295 Watts of power.


LADEE has many sophisticated tools. It will use an Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer (UVS) to ascertain the moon’s atmosphere. The lunar atmosphere is not consistent and has been described as “bumpy.” Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) will record inconsistencies in the atmosphere as the moon travels through different environments and completes several orbits. The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) will analyze particles of dust suspended in the lunar atmosphere. This analysis will help determine whether lunar dust was charged by UV light from the sun and caused a glow on the horizon before sunrise. This question has stumped scientists since the days of the Apollo missions.

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/ladee%E2%80%99s-mission-moon

Earth-like Volcanism Occurred in the Early Solar System

Back in the fall of 2008, an asteroid now known as 2008 TC3 impacted Earth in Sudan’s Nubian Desert, bringing with it fragments from the mantle of another planetary body. Researchers studying one of the hundreds of meteorite fragments discovered evidence of volcanic activity. According to their study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, the fragment originated from an early solar system protoplanet that had active volcanic processes like we have on Earth. 

Volcanism is a fundamental geological process that contributed the growth of planetary bodies in the days of the early solar system, billions of years ago. These small planetary embryos were only tens to hundreds of kilometers in size. Numerous rocks with basaltic composition have already been found on the moon, Mars, asteroids, and of course Earth. On our planet, however, there’s another type of volcanism that generates “trachyandesite lavas.” Until now, there’s been no evidence of this process elsewhere. 

Using microscopy and spectroscopy, a team led by Addi Bischoff from Universität Münster examined one of the 600 fragments strewn across the desert — collectively known as the “Almahata Sitta” meteorites. Their original parent body (or bodies) were likely destroyed in collisions with other asteroids. 

The team’s focus was on the 24.2-gram sample labeled ALM-A (Almahata Sitta trachyandesitic meteorite), which was covered with a greenish, shiny fusion crust. They found that the ALM-A sample was rich in volatiles and silicon — the result of trachyandesitic, alkali-, and silica-rich volcanism. “We found rocks were being produced by volcanism on small asteroids just six-and-a-half million years after the formation of the first solid material in the solar system,” Bischoff explains to Australia’s ABC News

Their findings suggest that the volcanic processes that produce these kinds of rock compositions on Earth may have been active in early solar system bodies from around 4.56 billion years ago. “I would have thought that these kinds of rocks could only have formed much later, on larger bodies like Earth,” Bischoff adds. “But to have this happening on asteroids so early is fantastic.”

Pictured above, you can see the greenish hue of the specimen (A), as well as a view of a thin section of ALM-A with polarized light (B). The presence of glass (C,D) indicates very rapid cooling, which helped confirmed a lava origin.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/earth-volcanism-occurred-early-solar-system

Hubble Spots Odd Asteroid With Six Tails

Silly asteroid, tails are for comets! Around five months ago, an asteroid called P/2013 P5 was seen to be kicking off dust, making it look like it had a tail like a comet. Use of more detailed imaging would show that the asteroid actually has an unprecedented six tails.

In August, researchers had noticed P/2013 P5, an asteroid with a nucleus 1400 feet (427 meters) long, looked somewhat blurred through the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS). Traditionally, asteroids appear as a sharp point of light, and this anomaly piqued the curiosity of the researchers. They figured that it might have begun rotating extremely quickly, causing it to kick off some of its surface dust and look like a comet. 

On September 10, the team used the Hubble Space Telescope to get more detailed images of the oddball asteroid. The results completely dumbfounded the researchers: the asteroid had six tails that jut out in all directions, like spokes on a bicycle wheel! Even more amazing was the fact that when the team looked at it again less than two weeks later, the tails looked completely different. 

After extensive analysis, it was determined that the tails are most likely the byproducts from six different dust-ejection events that were pulled out like tails by solar radiation pressure. That pressure is also believed to be what caused the asteroid to begin spinning so quickly in the first place, in a phenomenon known as radiation torque. If an asteroid is spinning too fast, its small amount of gravity is not enough to hold itself together and the dust goes flying off. Because the dust pattern does not suggest that a lot of material was ejected from the asteroid at once, the researchers are currently discounting the idea that these tails are the products of a collision. The results were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

So far, only a small percentage of its mass has been sloughed off into the tails, but this could be the beginning of the end for the asteroid. Future analysis will show if the dust is being ejected around the asteroid’s equator, which will be the best evidence that the asteroid is in the process of a rotational breakup. 

While this is the first six-tailed asteroid that has ever been documented, researchers are confident that if there is one, there are probably many more waiting to be discovered. 

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/hubble-spots-odd-asteroid-six-tails

Experts Raise Eyebrows Over Meteoritic Origin Of Nicaraguan Crater

On the evening of Saturday September 6, a 12-meter-wide (40 foot) crater appeared near the international airport of Nicaragua’s capital Managua. The timing appeared to coincide with the passing of an asteroid called 2014 RC which safely flew past Earth on September 7, leading many to believe that it may have been caused by a space rock impact. Local residents claim they heard a loud blast the same night, but no one saw anything.

According to Associated Press, a committee formed by the government to study the event attributed the crater to a “relatively” small meteorite that came off 2014 RC. However, not everyone is quite so convinced, and outside experts have started to share their skepticism over the apparent meteoritic source of the crater.

While it’s difficult to rule out a meteorite at this stage, according to NASA, the lack of eyewitnesses strongly suggests that something else is to blame. Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, said that if a meteorite did cause the crater, it would have probably been around 1 meter (3 feet) wide. However, meteors of this size would usually appear very bright against the night sky, and not one of the 1.5 million people living in the capital saw any flashes.

“For something to produce a hole in the ground that big, it would have generated a very bright fireball. And nothing was reported… despite the population,” said Cooke. “So I’m very skeptical.”

And that’s not the only fishy feature of this situation. No meteorite fragments have been found at the scene so far. Even if the meteorite exploded in the air, producing a shockwave that carved out the crater, scientists would still expect to find remnants embedded in the soil. Furthermore, according to NASA scientists, the explosion occurred 13 hours before the close passage of the asteroid, when it was about as far away as the Moon, suggesting they are not linked.

“For those wondering, the event in Nicaragua (poss meteorite?) is unrelated to asteroid 2014 RC. Different timing, different directions,” NASA officials tweeted.

So, unfortunately at this stage it seems there is a big question mark over this mysterious crater, but we can be fairly confident that 2014 RC is not to blame. 

[Via space.com, Guardian, and Associated Press]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/experts-raise-eyebrows-over-meteoritic-origin-nicaraguan-crater

NASA Opens Asteroid Defense Office To Track Dangerous Objects

If you still have nightmares about Deep Impact or Armageddon, this news might ease your terrors:NASA has announced the creation of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), which will supervise all NASA-funded projects that aim to protect us from near-Earth objects (NEOs).

There are over 13,500 objects that orbit in the proximity of Earth, and they range in size from about 1 meter (3 feet) to32 kilometers (20 miles). Ninety-six of these are comets while the rest are asteroids. Scientists are confident that 90 percentof all the asteroids above 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) have been identified, but many smaller ones remain hidden.

“Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in astatement.”While there are no known impact threats at this time, the 2013 Chelyabinsk super-fireball and the recent ‘Halloween Asteroid‘close approach remind us of why we need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes to the sky.”

The office will coordinate any plan to spot potential threats, working in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense, andinternational counterparts. The PDCO will also issue notices of close passes and warnings of any potentially hazardous object discovered.

“The formal establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defense,” said Lindley Johnson, longtime NEO program executive who will now lead the PDCO.

NASAs current objective is to find 90 percent of all the asteroids bigger than 140 meters (450 feet) by 2020. Surveys indicatethat about 25 percent of these mid-sized objects have been discovered.

NASA’s long-term planetary defense goal doesn’t only include the observation of the objects, but also developing the technology to deflect or redirect objects that are on a collision course with Earth. Both NASAs Asteroid Redirect Mission and the joint NASA-ESA Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission will, in the next decade, test the feasibility of stopping asteroids before they get too close to us.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/nasa-opens-asteroid-defense-office

Asteroid 2013 TV135: It’s Not Armageddon

Astronomers at Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in Ukraine discovered a new asteroid almost a month after it came within 4.2 million miles (6.7 million kilometers) of Earth on September 16. Asteroid 2013 TV135 is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) long, and its orbit around the sun varies from 75% of the way to Jupiter to approximately the same as Earth. 

Because we have only known about the asteroid for a short time and it has an orbit of about four years, it is difficult to predict its precise path solely from this. Preliminary observations say that the asteroid will likely be near us again in 2032, but there is currently no cause for concern. The initial odds of impact were 1 in 63,000, but based on what information we have now, there is a 1 in 14,000 chance that the asteroid could impact Earth. This shouldn’t be a cause for panic, as the initial claim was made with only a week’s worth of information


In the coming months, the asteroid will be in a good position for astronomers to observe its speed, position, and direction. Once there is a sufficient amount of data at the Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, nicknamed “Spaceguard,” will be able to update the risk of impact, and the numbers are expected to be in Earth’s favor.


Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL has said, “The current probability of no impact in 2032 [is] about 99.998 percent. This is a relatively new discovery. With more observations, I fully expect we will be able to significantly reduce, or rule out entirely, any impact probability for the foreseeable future.”


The Near-Earth Object Program is responsible for identifying and tracking the 10,332  meteors, comets, and asteroids that could potentially pose a threat of impact with Earth. The data they collect is used to determine the possible risk of a collision. 

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/asteroid-2013-tv135-it%E2%80%99s-not-armageddon

NASA Hosting Asteroid Hunting Contest

There are millions of asteroids in our solar system. Many of them pass very close to Earth without a problem, such as NEA DX110 that passed by closer than the moon last week. Space is pretty big so it’s much easier to miss us than hit us, but the odds don’t always work out that way and we want to be ready.

NASA’s Near Earth Object Observation Program is constantly on the lookout for asteroids and other objects that could potentially pose a risk of hitting Earth, so that we don’t suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, they generate a lot more data than they can analyze in a timely manner. Even with some citizen science projects lending a hand, there is still a lot of work to be done.

NASA has partnered up with the privately-owned Planetary Resources to host the Asteroid Data Hunter Grand Challenge. The contest aims to find all asteroids that are potential threats and determine how to handle them. Competitors will be able to make observations or write computer code that can identify, track, and characterize asteroids in addition to creating a plan to mitigate any damage they may cause. 

The contest begins on Monday March 17 and ends August 22. The winning solutions for each stage of development will receive part of the $35,000 prize. There are no special qualifications necessary. If you’d like to get involved, the challenge’s website has more details and registration information.

Happy asteroid hunting! 


Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/nasa-hosting-asteroid-hunting-contest

Massive Asteroids Battered Early Earth

It’s common knowledge that the early solar system was a fairly inhospitable place, as massive rocks continuously slammed together for millions of years, eventually creating planets. New research has indicated that during the first 500 million years of Earth’s history, huge asteroids bombarded the planet, causing drastic mixing and reshaping of the surface, which explains why we don’t have samples of those earliest rocks. The research was completed through an international collaboration and the paper was published in Nature

Our solar system began to form roughly 4.5 billion years ago. As the dust and gas coalesced into progressively larger rocks that slammed into one another, the rocks that would eventually be known as Earth went through several phases of bombardment that shaped the planet as we see it today. Shortly after the Earth was formed, it collided with a planetary body roughly the size of Mars and generated the debris that would form our moon. Later, it got pelted with asteroids so large, they made the one that wiped out the dinosaurs look like a pebble. 

The Hadean geological eon represents everything that happened prior to four billion years ago. The asteroid collisions near the end of this period did not add a lot of mass to Earth, but were powerful enough to bury or melt some of the earliest rocks on the surface. Additionally, the heat generated from the impacts may have boiled entire oceans, creating a heavy, humid atmosphere multiple times. Previous studies have indicated that water has been on Earth for about 4.3 billion years, and this model does support that claim.

“Prior to approximately four billion years ago, no large region of Earth’s surface could have survived untouched by impacts and their effects,” lead author Simone Marchi said in a press release. “The new picture of the Hadean Earth emerging from this work has important implications for its habitability.”

So how big were these asteroids? According to this model, as many as four could have been over 600 miles wide while around 3-7 were closer to 300 miles wide. For a size comparison, the asteroid that hit 65 million years ago was around 6 miles wide. Life is believed to have originated within the first billion years of Earth’s history and could have been greatly affected by these impacts. The larger asteroids may have been capable of incinerating life all around the planet, while the smaller ones would have been enough to turn entire oceans into steam. However, these collisions were spaced out and allowed for conditions to settle down.

“During that time, the lag between major collisions was long enough to allow intervals of more clement conditions, at least on a local scale,” said Marchi. “Any life emerging during the Hadean eon likely needed to be resistant to high temperatures, and could have survived such a violent period in Earth’s history by thriving in niches deep underground or in the ocean’s crust.”

Size and location of craters by asteroids, color-coded by time of impact. Image Credit: Simone Marchi et al. 2014

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/massive-asteroids-battered-early-earth