Hubble Catches Breakup

I first saw this and thought Hubble caught a comet breaking up, turns out it isn’t it’s an asteroid! Not to mention another Hubble first. The four largest fragments are as much as 200 meters in diameter.

“This is a rock. Seeing it fall apart before our eyes is pretty amazing,” said David Jewitt of UCLA, USA, who led the astronomical forensics investigation.

Get the story at ESA’s Hubble page.

Video source

Asteroid 2006 DP14

Radar image of asteroid 2006 DP14. Click for larger. Credit: NASA et al.

I must confess I’ve never really considered this before and the way the press release is worded leaves me with the question: are these “contact binaries” actually two separate asteroids or are they just sort of stuck together by whatever (like gravitationally bound, impact fused etc)?

The NASA press release:

A collage of radar images of near-Earth asteroid 2006 DP14 was generated by NASA scientists using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., on the night of Feb. 11, 2014.

Delay-Doppler radar imaging revealed that the asteroid is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) long, 660 feet (200 meters) wide, and shaped somewhat like a big peanut. The asteroid’s period of rotation is about six hours. The asteroid is of a type known as a “contact binary” because it has two large lobes on either end that appear to be in contact. Previous radar data from Goldstone and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has shown that at least 10 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than about 650 feet (200 meters) have contact binary shapes like that of 2006 DP14. The data were obtained over an interval of 2.5 hours as the asteroid completed about half a revolution. The resolution is about 60 feet (19 meters) per pixel.

The data were obtained on Feb. 11 between 9:03 a.m. and 11:27 p.m. PST (12:03 a.m. to 2:27 a.m. EST on Feb. 12). At the time of the observations, the asteroid’s distance was about 2.6 million miles (4.2 million kilometers) from Earth. That is about 11 times the average distance between Earth and its moon. The asteroid’s closest approach to Earth occurred on Feb. 10, at a distance of about 1.5 million miles (2.4 million kilometers).
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Science@NASA put up a video about Earth impacting asteroids, notably 2014AA the New Years Day asteroid.

Hey it’s more interesting than the learning the new Federal Grants Program procedures classes I’ve been at for the past two days.  :mrgreen:


New Year’s Asteroid

Asteroid 2014 AA, discovered by the NASA-sponsored Catalina Sky Survey on Jan. 1, 2014, as it moved across the sky. Image Credit: CSS/LPL/UA. Clicking on the image will take you to a larger image at NASA.

The Catalina Sky Survey found the first asteroid of the new year early Wednesday morning. The asteroid was a wee one, just 2 or 3 meters (7 to 10 feet) in diameter.

I should say “apparently” because the object can no longer be observed. From the series of images they obtained put together in the animation above it sure looks to be asteroid 2014 AA, what else could it be?

You might wonder why they don’t just do more observations. The answer is they can’t. 2014 AA was on a potential Earth impact trajectory and most likely entered the atmosphere between 19:00 UTC Wednesday and 14:00 UTC Thursday.

There were no fireball sighting reports (at least not yet), there are and most likely the asteroid broke apart on entry.

Using the only available observations, three independent projections of the possible orbit by the independent orbit analyst Bill Gray, of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., and Steve Chesley, of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are in agreement that 2014 AA would hit Earth’s atmosphere. According to Chesley, the potential impact locations are widely distributed because of the orbit uncertainty, falling along an arc extending from Central America to East Africa. The most likely impact location of the object was just off the coast of West Africa at about 6 p.m. PST (9 p.m. EST) Jan. 1.

In the Crow’s Nest – SST

Joe asked if anyone was manning the “Crows Nest”, yes, and they are about to get an even better look.


Advanced Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) readies for 9,000-mile journey to Western Australia to enable valuable monitoring of objects 22,000 miles above Earth

As satellites become more common, they face growing risk of colliding with space debris and even each other. The U.S. Department of Defense has thus made space situational awareness a top priority to maintain communication, Earth observation and other critical capabilities upon which military, civilian and commercial functions rely. Traditional telescope technology, however, has difficulty finding and tracking small objects—such as debris and satellites—across wide tracks of sky, especially at the increasingly crowded geosynchronous orbits roughly 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface.

To help overcome these challenges, DARPA has developed the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST). Through its unique combination of several novel technologies, the SST program seeks to enable much faster discovery and tracking of previously unseen, hard-to-find small objects in geosynchronous orbits. The SST will soon move from its current mountaintop location in New Mexico, where the system underwent operational testing and evaluation, to Australia, where it will provide key space situational awareness from the southern hemisphere—an area of the geosynchronous belt that is still largely unexplored.

Read the rest of the press release at the DARPA site.

BTW, our ice storm continues, it’s a mess out there. Power is back for now.

Asteroid P/2013 P5

Hubble looks at a six-tailed asteroid. Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (University of California, Los Angeles), J. Agarwal (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research), H. Weaver (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory), M. Mutchler (STScI), and S. Larson (University of Arizona)

Hubble looks at a six-tailed asteroid. Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (University of California, Los Angeles), J. Agarwal (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research), H. Weaver (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory), M. Mutchler (STScI), and S. Larson (University of Arizona)

How cool is this? It’s an asteroid with an identity crisis. Just like the press release (linked below) says, an asteroid normally appears as a point of light. Not P/2013 P5, this thing is very comet-like in that it has a tail. In fact it has six tails!?

Six Tails? Wait, comets are ice and asteroids are rock. How does that happen?

Careful modeling by team member Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Lindau, Germany, showed that the tails could have been formed by a series of impulsive dust-ejection events. She calculated that the first ejection event occurred on April 15 and the last one on Sept. 4. The rest sequentially erupted on July 18, July 24, Aug. 8, and Aug. 26. Radiation pressure from the Sun smears out the dust into streamers.

The asteroid could possibly have been spun up if the pressure of sunlight exerted a torque on the body. If the asteroid’s spin rate became fast enough, Jewitt said, the asteroid’s weak gravity would no longer be able to hold it together. Dust might avalanche downslope towards the equator, and maybe shatter and fall off, eventually drifting into space to make a tail. So far, only a small fraction of the main mass, perhaps 100 to 1,000 tons of dust, has been lost. The 700-foot-radius nucleus is thousands of times more massive.

Follow-on observations may show if the dust leaves the asteroid in the equatorial plane, and this would be pretty strong evidence for a rotational breakup. Astronomers will also try to measure the asteroid’s true spin rate.

Here’s the full press release and links to larger images.

Boomerang Nebula

Boomerang nebula from ALMA and Hubble. Image credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF/NASA/STScI/JPL-Caltech

Boomerang nebula from ALMA and Hubble. Image credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF/NASA/STScI/JPL-Caltech

An image fitting for Halloween from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope, or ALMA and Hubble of a nebula about 1,533 pc / 5000 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus.

The Boomerang nebula is known as the “coldest place in the universe”. The ghostly shape shown in red is from cold gas molecules as seen from ALMA and the blue background is from Hubble. The Boomerang is known as a pre-planetary nebula, think of the early stages of nebula formation.

And cold? Cold seems to be almost inadequate, the red colored region is just 1 K, that’s one degree Kelvin or -272oC / -458oF. Even the cosmic background radiation is warmer than that.

Check out press release.

I think today is when Europe changes from “Summer Time” so the clocks go back one hour and you get an “hour extra sleep”. Next week it is the US’s turn. Not all locales in either place switch, personally if I’had my way I’d not change either. The thing is, I would not change from Summer Time because I’d like more light at the end of the day.

Also wanted to mention yesterday we had a close visit from a newly discovered asteroid. The asteroid called 2013 UX2 came as close as 0.39 lunar distance or just shy of 150,000 km / 93,000 miles.  The asteroid is just now leaving the Earth-Moon system as this post publishes.

2013 UX2 is newly discovered, the designation being assigned to the Catalina Sky Survey. Pretty good catch, this asteroid is only 5-meters in diameter.

More info at the JPL Small Body Database.

WISE To Rejoin the Hunt


WISE spots asteroid 1998 KN3 (bright yellow spot on left) go by near the Orion nebula. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The WISE spacecraft is being reactivated to continue the hunt for asteroids. WISE was launched in December 2009 and was very successful, discovering more than 33,000 new  asteroids and comets. One of the many interesting discoveries included the brown dwarf star system just 6.5 light years away.

The primary mission ended in October 2010 when the coolant ran out. A new mission called spacecraft began using two (out of four total) that do not require cryogen for cooling. The NEOWISE mission was scheduled to run a month and ended up being extended three months because it worked so well. After the NEOWISE mission the spacecraft was put into hibernation.

It will be nice to have WISE back in the hunt.

About the image from NASA:

This image shows the potentially hazardous near-Earth object 1998 KN3 as it zips past a cloud of dense gas and dust near the Orion nebula. NEOWISE, the asteroid-hunting portion of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, mission, snapped infrared pictures of the asteroid, seen as the yellow-green dot at upper left. Because asteroids are warmed by the sun to roughly room temperature, they glow brightly at the infrared wavelengths used by WISE.

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2013 MZ5

Denoted with a red arrow, 2013 is the 10,000th NEO found. Click for animated version. Credit: University of Hawaii/NASA

Denoted with a red arrow, 2013 is the 10,000th NEO found. Click for animated version. Credit: University of Hawaii/NASA

The Pan-STARRS-1 telescope has found the 10,000th Near-Earth Object, it’s name is 2013 MZ5.

From it’s perch on the 10,000 ft (3,000 km) Haleakala crater on Maui.

From the JPL/NASA press release (click for an animation):

“Finding 10,000 near-Earth objects is a significant milestone,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “But there are at least 10 times that many more to be found before we can be assured we will have found any and all that could impact and do significant harm to the citizens of Earth.” During Johnson’s decade-long tenure, 76 percent of the NEO discoveries have been made.

Pan-STARRS is Managed by the University of Hawaii, the PanSTARRS survey receives NASA funding.

Asteroid Grand Challenge


Among other topics on this episode is the Asteroid challenge, can we find all asteroid threats to Earth. There is also coverage of a memorial to Neil Armstrong.

On the asteroid topic: I get listings of newly discovered and re-discovered asteroids. I like to scan the listings looking at the semi-major axis “a”. We can quickly figure the period of the asteroid in years:

Period = The square root of the cube of the semi-major axis. Simple and quick on almost any calculator, you can even do it in Google. A period of one year means the asteroid has the same orbital period as the Earth, not necessarily the same orbit or anything like that, simple that if it is at let’s say Point X today, a year from now it will be pretty close to Point X again.

There have been some pretty good finds, a couple with orbital periods of better than 80 years. The other day I ran across one with a semi-major axis of 0.849 AU and that is an orbital period of 0.782…years or 285 days. When you see an orbital period of less than one, you know it has a period of less than a year so its orbit is contained inside of that of the Earth.

The asteroid 2010 NG1 does come by and gets kind of close to us on occasion but not terribly so. However a close approach to Venus does seem to be in the offing on 25 Feb 2014. It won’t hit or anything and I’m still trying to sort out how close but you can get an idea by looking at the JPL Orbital Diagram.