Category Archives: Asteroids

What About Arecibo?

Just the other day I was wondering what was going on at Arecibo. You may recall Arecibo and the rest of Puerto Rico was pretty much turned into a disaster zone by Hurricane Maria. The rebuilding progress for Puerto Rico has been slow.

Arecibo on the other hand is apparently up and running just fine and it even got a look at asteroid Phaethon. Very pleased to hear of the return of this great observatory!

Original caption from NASA:
These radar images of near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon were generated by astronomers at the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory on Dec. 17, 2017. Observations of Phaethon were conducted at Arecibo from Dec.15 through 19, 2017. At time of closest approach on Dec. 16 at 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST, 11 p.m. UTC) the asteroid was about 6.4 million miles (10.3 million kilometers) away, or about 27 times the distance from Earth to the moon. The encounter is the closest the object will come to Earth until 2093.

The Arecibo Planetary Radar Program is funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program through a grant to Universities Space Research Association (USRA), from the Near-Earth Object Observations program. The Arecibo Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by SRI International, USRA, and Universidad Metropolitana.

Oumuamua

Very cool. An interstellar asteroid called Oumuamua.

We are getting some great information starting with two videos about Oumuamua. The first is from ESO:

And the second from NASA:

Finally a press release from NASA:

Now, new data reveal the interstellar interloper to be a rocky, cigar-shaped object with a somewhat reddish hue. The asteroid, named ‘Oumuamua by its discoverers, is up to one-quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly-elongated—perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide. That aspect ratio is greater than that of any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system to date. While its elongated shape is quite surprising, and unlike asteroids seen in our solar system, it may provide new clues into how other solar systems formed.

The observations and analyses were funded in part by NASA and appear in the Nov. 20 issue of the journal Nature. They suggest this unusual object had been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system.

“For decades we’ve theorized that such interstellar objects are out there, and now – for the first time – we have direct evidence they exist,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study formation of solar systems beyond our own.”

Immediately after its discovery, telescopes around the world, including ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world were called into action to measure the object’s orbit, brightness and color. Urgency for viewing from ground-based telescopes was vital to get the best data.

Combining the images from the FORS instrument on the ESO telescope using four different filters with those of other large telescopes, a team of astronomers led by Karen Meech of the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii found that ‘Oumuamua varies in brightness by a factor of ten as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours. No known asteroid or comet from our solar system varies so widely in brightness, with such a large ratio between length and width. The most elongated objects we have seen to date are no more than three times longer than they are wide.

“This unusually big variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about ten times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape,” said Meech. We also found that it had a reddish color, similar to objects in the outer solar system, and confirmed that it is completely inert, without the faintest hint of dust around it.”

These properties suggest that ‘Oumuamua is dense, comprised of rock and possibly metals, has no water or ice, and that its surface was reddened due to the effects of irradiation from cosmic rays over hundreds of millions of years.

A few large ground-based telescopes continue to track the asteroid, though it’s rapidly fading as it recedes from our planet. Two of NASA’s space telescopes (Hubble and Spitzer) are tracking the object the week of Nov. 20. As of Nov. 20, ‘Oumuamua is travelling about 85,700 miles per hour (38.3 kilometers per second) relative to the Sun. Its location is approximately 124 million miles (200 million kilometers) from Earth — the distance between Mars and Jupiter – though its outbound path is about 20 degrees above the plane of planets that orbit the Sun. The object passed Mars’s orbit around Nov. 1 and will pass Jupiter’s orbit in May of 2018. It will travel beyond Saturn’s orbit in January 2019; as it leaves our solar system, ‘Oumuamua will head for the constellation Pegasus.

Observations from large ground-based telescopes will continue until the object becomes too faint to be detected, sometime after mid-December. NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) continues to take all available tracking measurements to refine the trajectory of 1I/2017 U1 as it exits our solar system.

This remarkable object was discovered Oct. 19 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations(NEOO) Program, which finds and tracks asteroids and comets in Earth’s neighborhood. NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said, “We are fortunate that our sky survey telescope was looking in the right place at the right time to capture this historic moment. This serendipitous discovery is bonus science enabled by NASA’s efforts to find, track and characterize near-Earth objects that could potentially pose a threat to our planet.”

Preliminary orbital calculations suggest that the object came from the approximate direction of the bright star Vega, in the northern constellation of Lyra. However, it took so long for the interstellar object to make the journey – even at the speed of about 59,000 miles per hour (26.4 kilometers per second) — that Vega was not near that position when the asteroid was there about 300,000 years ago.

While originally classified as a comet, observations from ESO and elsewhere revealed no signs of cometary activity after it slingshotted past the Sun on Sept. 9 at a blistering speed of 196,000 miles per hour (87.3 kilometers per second).

The object has since been reclassified as interstellar asteroid 1I/2017 U1 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is responsible for granting official names to bodies in the solar system and beyond. In addition to the technical name, the Pan-STARRS team dubbed it ‘Oumuamua (pronounced oh MOO-uh MOO-uh), which is Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first.”

Astronomers estimate that an interstellar asteroid similar to ‘Oumuamua passes through the inner solar system about once per year, but they are faint and hard to spot and have been missed until now. It is only recently that survey telescopes, such as Pan-STARRS, are powerful enough to have a chance to discover them.

“What a fascinating discovery this is!” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “It’s a strange visitor from a faraway star system, shaped like nothing we’ve ever seen in our own solar system neighborhood.”

Videos: ESO / NASA

Press release: NASA

Incoming Asteroid! Not to Worry.

Here comes asteroid 2012 TC4. Despite a number of internet sites  talking about TC4 as if it is going to hit Earth the asteroid is going to safely pass by. Don’t buy into the doom-mongers click-bait.

Asteroid 2012 TC4 will flyby rather close to be sure.  On 12 October at 05:41 UT / 01:41 ET the asteroid will pass just 50,000 km / 31,000 miles or roughly 30 percent further away than our geosynchronous satellites.

2012 TC4 is about 15 meters / 50 ft and has a period of 1.67 years.  This time around it is going to be a great opportunity to learn what we can.  We will have some radar observations if all goes well and there will be plenty of telescopes aimed at it. The Goldstone radar is planning on observing the asteroid check out this page for a wealth of information.

Sooner or later we will have something to really worry about but probably not from 2012 TC4; in fact assuming nothing happens to change the predicted orbits this is as close it will get until 2079 (NEODyS2).

 

Image: ESA

Hubble Sees a Binary Asteroid

It’s an asteroid pair and also classified as a main belt comet. Very nice work!

NASA — Hubble was used to image the asteroid, designated 300163 (2006 VW139), in September 2016 just before the asteroid made its closest approach to the Sun. Hubble’s crisp images revealed that it was actually not one, but two asteroids of almost the same mass and size, orbiting each other at a distance of 60 miles.

Asteroid 300163 (2006 VW139) was discovered by Spacewatch in November 2006 and then the possible cometary activity was seen in November 2011 by Pan-STARRS. Both Spacewatch and Pan-STARRS are asteroid survey projects of NASA’s Near Earth Object Observations Program. After the Pan-STARRS observations it was also given a comet designation of 288P. This makes the object the first known binary asteroid that is also classified as a main-belt comet.

The more recent Hubble observations revealed ongoing activity in the binary system. “We detected strong indications for the sublimation of water ice due to the increased solar heating — similar to how the tail of a comet is created,” explained team leader Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany.

The combined features of the binary asteroid — wide separation, near-equal component size, high eccentricity orbit, and comet-like activity — also make it unique among the few known binary asteroids that have a wide separation. Understanding its origin and evolution may provide new insights into the early days of the solar system. Main-belt comets may help to answer how water came to a bone-dry Earth billions of years ago.

The team estimates that 2006 VW139/288P has existed as a binary system only for about 5,000 years. The most probable formation scenario is a breakup due to fast rotation. After that, the two fragments may have been moved further apart by the effects of ice sublimation, which would give a tiny push to an asteroid in one direction as water molecules are ejected in the other direction.

The fact that 2006 VW139/288P is so different from all other known binary asteroids raises some questions about how common such systems are in the asteroid belt. “We need more theoretical and observational work, as well as more objects similar to this object, to find an answer to this question,” concluded Agarwal.

The research is presented in a paper, to be published in the journal Nature this week.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

For additional images, visit: http://hubblesite.org/news_release/news/2017-32

Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. DePasquale and Z. Levay (STScI)

 

Two Moons for Florence


Asteroid Florence or more properly 3122 Florence (1981 ET3) was discovered by Schelte “Bobby” Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia in March 1981 and named for Florence Nightingale made a “close” flyby on 01 September 2017.

The actual distance of the flyby was (about) 7,065,270 km / 4,390,155 miles which is close enough for an object that has a diameter of 4.5 km / 2.8 miles. Also close enough to get nice radar images using the 70-m antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex (Images: NASA).

To almost everyones surprise Florence has two moons which makes Florence a triple asteroid system. There are now three known “triples” in the population of 16,400 asteroids and the other two were also discovered by radar, the last discovery was asteroid named 1994 CC made in 2009.

NASA — “The sizes of the two moons are not yet well known, but they are probably between 100 – 300 meters (300-1000 feet) across. The times required for each moon to revolve around Florence are also not yet known precisely but appear to be roughly 8 hours for the inner moon and 22 to 27 hours for the outer moon. The inner moon of the Florence system has the shortest orbital period of any of the moons of the 60 near-Earth asteroids known to have moons. In the Goldstone radar images, which have a resolution of 75 meters, the moons are only a few pixels in extent and do not reveal any detail.

The radar images also provide our first close-up view of Florence itself. Although the asteroid is fairly round, it has a ridge along its equator, at least one large crater, two large flat regions, and numerous other small-scale topographic features. The images also confirm that Florence rotates once every 2.4 hours, a result that was determined previously from optical measurements of the asteroid’s brightness variations.”

An orbital period of 2.35 years should allow for subsequent observations in future encounters. Speaking of close encounters, we will have a VERY CLOSE encounter with asteroid 2012 TC4 on October 12 when it will pass just 0.13 lunar distances away, that’s only 49,972 km / 31,051 miles!

Edit:  Sorry about the late posting, operator error.

Backyard Asteroid Hunters

Backyard astronomer Robert Holmes of Westfield, Illinois is a asteroid hunter and you can do this too. Mr. Holmes made over 36,000 observations in 2015!

Not that I’d know, we have had ZERO nights with clear skies in the past two weeks and we had 7 cm of rain yesterday in about six hours. I’m heading out to look at the flood damage in the area – nothing in the way of damage here.

Asteroid Hunters

NASA – Two unique ground telescope operations, at the Catalina Sky Survey in Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, and the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or PanSTARRS, located at Haleakala, Hawaii, are responsible for about 90 percent of all near-Earth object discoveries.

Asteroid 2014 JO25

Wow, this asteroid is getting a lot of press! That’s good! The asteroid is not a problem for us and won’t be for quite some time. Check out the NEODyS-2 site page for 2014 JO25. NEODyS-2 is a good place to bookmark as is Earth’s Busy Neighborhood.

The asteroid is large, around 812 meters in diameter and will be about 1.61 million km / million miles (4.57 Lunar distances from us) at the closest so it is comfortably far away.

The great part about this fly-by is it will give us the opportunity to really study something this large and therefore potentially hazardous up-close, perhaps even radar images.