Tag Archives: asteroids

New impact on the Martian south polar cap

New impact on Mars' south pole

Cool image time! The image to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on October 5, 2018 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and shows a recent meteorite impact that occurred sometime between July and September of 2018 on the Martian polar cap . If you click on the image you can see the entire photograph. As noted in the captioned press release,

It’s notable because it occurred in the seasonal southern ice cap, and has apparently punched through it, creating a two-toned blast pattern.

The impact hit on the ice layer, and the tones of the blast pattern tell us the sequence. When an impactor hits the ground, there is a tremendous amount of force like an explosion. The larger, lighter-colored blast pattern could be the result of scouring by winds from the impact shockwave. The darker-colored inner blast pattern is because the impactor penetrated the thin ice layer, excavated the dark sand underneath, and threw it out in all directions on top of the layer.

Location on edge of south polar cap

It is not known yet the size of this meteorite. The location is shown in the overview image to the right, with the impact indicated by the white dot. The black circle in the middle of the image is the south pole itself, an area where MRO’s orbit does not allow imagery. This location, on the edge of the Martian polar cap, is helpful to scientists because it has excavated material from below the cap, providing them a peek into previously unseen the geology there. Had the impact been farther south, on the thicker cap, that hidden material below the cap would likely not have been exposed.

The cap itself is made up of both ice and frozen carbon dioxide, though the CO2 is mostly seen as frost during winter months that evaporates during the summer.

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Moon hit by small meteorite during eclipse

During the lunar eclipse two days ago on January 20, 2018 amateur astronomers were able to record the impact of a small meteorite.

The MIDAS survey is a Moon-watching that scours video of its surface in the hopes of detecting the tiny flashes associated with meteorite impacts. In this case, MIDAS scored a home run, and it was the first time the system was able to spot an impact during a total lunar eclipse.

“In total I spent almost two days without sleeping, including the monitoring time during the eclipse,” [Jose] Madiedo explained to Gizmodo. “I was exhausted when the eclipse ended—but when the automatic detection software notified me of a bright flash, I jumped out of my chair. It was a very exciting moment because I knew such a thing had never been recorded before.”

The meteorite itself wasn’t terribly large, and is estimated to have only been around 22 pounds.

I have embedded the video of the impact below the fold. It is very short, and the flash is not very impressive, but it still is quite cool.
» Read more

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No Planet X needed

The uncertainty of science: New computer models now suggest that the orbits of the known Kuiper Belt objects can be explained without the need for the theorized large Planet X.

The weirdly clustered orbits of some far-flung bodies in our solar system can be explained without invoking a big, undiscovered “Planet Nine,” a new study suggests.

The shepherding gravitational pull could come from many fellow trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) rather than a single massive world, according to the research.

“If you remove Planet Nine from the model, and instead allow for lots of small objects scattered across a wide area, collective attractions between those objects could just as easily account for the eccentric orbits we see in some TNOs,” study lead author Antranik Sefilian, a doctoral student in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University in England, said in a statement.

When you think about it, having many many scattered small objects in the Kuiper Belt makes much more sense than a few giant planets. Out there, it would be difficult for large objects to coalesce from the solar system’s initial accretion disk. The density of material would be too low. However, you might get a lot of small objects from that disk, which once formed would be too far apart to accrete into larger planets.

The use of the term “Planet Nine” by these scientists however is somewhat annoying, and that has less to do with Pluto and more to do with the general understanding of what it means to be a planet that has been evolving in the past two decades. There are clearly more than eight planets known in the solar system now. The large moons of the gas giants as well as the larger dwarf planets, such as Ceres, have been shown to have all the complex features of planets. And fundamentally, they are large enough to be spheres, not misshaped asteroids.

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Ceres’ bright spots in Occator Crater

Occator Crater bright spot

Cool image time! The Dawn science team has released some additional images taken shortly before the mission’s conclusion when Dawn was in its closest orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres. On the right is a tiny cropped portion of a much larger mosaic of the bright spots on the floor of Occator Crater, focusing on one large bright spot that also includes a fissure cutting across it. If you click on the image you can see the entire mosaic, covering an additional four more bright areas.

The mosaic was taken in June 2018 from a distance of 21 miles.

The press release describes these bright areas as “deposits of salts, in particular sodium carbonate, possibly extruded through fractures connecting the surface to a deep reservoir of salty liquid.” That surely looks confirmed by the fissures in the image to the right.

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Hayabusa-2 to grab asteroid samples in February

The Hayabusa-2 science team has decided that it will make their first attempt to land and grab samples from the asteroid Ryugu in February.

“The time has finally come,” JAXA senior project member Takashi Kubota said at a news conference on Jan. 8. “Two candidate landing spots have their own advantages and drawbacks, but we will robustly try to collect samples.” The two sites are near the equator of the asteroid. JAXA said it will pick one by early February.

Between Feb. 18 and Feb. 23, the Hayabusa 2 will start descending from its “home position” at an altitude of 20 kilometers from the asteroid. JAXA will use “target markers,” which will be dropped on Ryugu beforehand, to guide the probe.

Hayabusa 2 is scheduled to make three touch-and-go landings.

There are clearly risks here, since the asteroid is strewn so completely with rocks and boulders.

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More results from New Horizons

Today’s press conference did not release any significantly new images. In fact, they did not provide much new information at all. They noted that based on the data obtained so far, they have confirmed that Ultima Thule has no moons closer than 100 miles, or further than 500 miles, but they have not yet gotten the data that looks in that gap.

They created a stereoscopic image using two images produced thirty minutes apart. This helps tell us where the bumps and depressions are on the surface, something that cannot be clearly determined from the first image because the sun was shining directly on it, producing no shadows. From this it appears that the smaller lobe has a very significant bump. More data from New Horizons will have to be downloaded to confirm this.

The reddish color of Ultima Thule places it in the center of a class of Kuiper Belt objects dubbed cold classical objects. This will help them better determine its make-up as more data arrives.

Overall, this press conference was mostly hype. They don’t yet have enough data from the spacecraft, and won’t have it for weeks. I’m therefore puzzled why they bothered today, unless they did it simply to keep the hype up about the mission so as to encourage funding to look for another object to fly past.

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OSIRIS-REx’s first survey of Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx science team has released a short movie of Bennu made up of images taken by the spacecraft’s navigation camera during its preliminary approaches to the asteroid from November 30 to December 31, 2018.

You can watch it here. Because this is the navigation camera, the view is generally from far away. Nonetheless, you can see that during the passes over the north pole, the equator, and the south pole, the asteroid’s entire surface became visible as the asteroid rotated. From this they will be able to use the images taken by the high resolution cameras to create an excellent detailed global.

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“We have a snow-man!”

Ultima Thule, the snowman

The quote in the headline comes from Alan Stern, the principle scientist for New Horizons, during today’s press conference revealing the first high resolution images of Ultima Thule. The press release for this conference is now online. The image on the right is a reduced cropped version of the main release image today. If you click on it you can see the full resolution version.

The images reveal that Ultima Thule actually is two objects in contact with each other. In addition, the snowman description is apt, as it has a mottled appearance as if it was shaped roughly and somewhat gently over time. Tiny pebbles and rocks softly came together to form two snowballs that then eventually came to touch and join.

They describe this as the most primitive object ever observed. It is also dark, and red in color, like dark reddish dirt.

More images and data is still coming in, to be released in another press conference tomorrow.

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Another image of Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule again

The image on the right was released during this morning’s first briefing outlining the successful confirmation of New Horizons’ fly-by of Ultima Thule (still on-going as I post this). It, along with other data, has provided an explanation for why the scientists have not detected a significant variation in brightness: Our view is looking down at the object’s poles

Images taken during the spacecraft’s approach — which brought New Horizons to within just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima at 12:33 a.m. EST — revealed that the Kuiper Belt object may have a shape similar to a bowling pin, spinning end over end, with dimensions of approximately 20 by 10 miles (32 by 16 kilometers). Another possibility is Ultima could be two objects orbiting each other. Flyby data have already solved one of Ultima’s mysteries, showing that the Kuiper Belt object is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons. This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn’t appear to vary as it rotated. The team has still not determined the rotation period.

They note that the highest resolution images will not arrive until February, though they do expect some good images by tomorrow.

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“We have a healthy spacecraft.”

The words above were just announced in the control room for New Horizons. They have confirmation that the spacecraft survived the fly-by of Ultima Thule, and is now ready to begin downloading the data it obtained.

It will take literally a year to get all of that data. They will be holding a first press conference within an hour to outline in greater detail the spacecraft’s status, followed by another briefing at 2 pm Eastern where they will likely release the first images.

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First faint image of Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule, first image

In anticipation of receiving data from the fly-by just past midnight last night, the New Horizons team has released the image above, taken 24 hours earlier.

Just over 24 hours before its closest approach to Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, the New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the first images that begin to reveal Ultima’s shape. The original images have a pixel size of 6 miles (10 kilometers), not much smaller than Ultima’s estimated size of 20 miles (30 kilometers), so Ultima is only about 3 pixels across (left panel). However, image-sharpening techniques combining multiple images show that it is elongated, perhaps twice as long as it is wide (right panel). This shape roughly matches the outline of Ultima’s shadow that was seen in observations of the object passing in front of a star made from Argentina in 2017 and Senegal in 2018.

This object is definitely strangely shaped.

New Horizons is traveling fast, which is why we won’t get good images until practically the instant the fly-by happens. And the first downloads from that fly-by are due to arrive within the next two hours. Keep your fingers crossed that the spacecraft operated as programmed and captured Ultima Thule in all its weird glory.

One point about the sad state of journalism these days. Numerous media publications posted stories last night celebrating that fly-by, as if they knew it was a success. This is bunk. We won’t know what happened until this morning. To imply we do is the hallmark of fake news.

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OSIRIS-REx moves into close orbit with Bennu

OSIRIS-REx has successfully completed an eight second engine burn to place it into a close orbit with the asteroid Bennu.

Now, the spacecraft will circle Bennu about a mile (1.75 kilometers) from its center, closer than any other spacecraft has come to its celestial object of study. (Previously the closest orbit of a planetary body was in May 2016, when the Rosetta spacecraft orbited about four miles (seven kilometers) from the center of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.) The comfortable distance is necessary to keep the spacecraft locked to Bennu, which has a gravity force only 5-millionths as strong as Earth’s. The spacecraft is scheduled to orbit Bennu through mid-February at a leisurely 62 hours per orbit.

There is a bit of hype here. Other spacecraft have gotten far closer (NEAR, Hayabusa-1, Hayabusa-2) but then retreated for a variety of reasons. What makes this different is the plan to stay this close while they compile detailed data about Bennu’s surface in preparation for touchdown to grab a sample.

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OSIRIS-REx flies over Bennu’s north pole

Bennu's north pole

Cool movie time! OSIRIS-REx has completed its first planned fly-over of Bennu, this time above its north pole, and the science team has released a short movie showing part of that fly-over. I have embedded the movie below the fold.

This series of MapCam images was taken over the course of about four hours and 19 minutes on Dec. 4, 2018, as OSIRIS-REx made its first pass over Bennu’s north pole. The images were captured as the spacecraft was inbound toward Bennu, shortly before its closest approach of the asteroid’s pole. As the asteroid rotates and grows larger in the field of view, the range to the center of Bennu shrinks from about 7.1 to 5.8 miles (11.4 to 9.3 km).

They have four more fly-overs of the asteroid’s poles and equator as they assemble a detailed map of its surface.
» Read more

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New asteroid radar images

near-Earth asteroid 2003 SD220

Cool radar images! The set of radar images above of near-Earth asteroid 2003 SD220 were created by combining radar data from three different radar telescopes on Earth, Arecibo in Puerto Rico, Green Bank in West Virginia, and Goldstone in California. As the press release notes:

The asteroid will fly safely past Earth on Saturday, Dec. 22, at a distance of about 1.8 million miles (2.9 million kilometers). This will be the asteroid’s closest approach in more than 400 years and the closest until 2070, when the asteroid will safely approach Earth slightly closer.

The radar images reveal an asteroid with a length of at least one mile (1.6 kilometers) and a shape similar to that of the exposed portion of a hippopotamus wading in a river.

The images have a resolution of 12 feet per pixel, so a close look should be able to reveal any large boulders, should they exist. Instead, I see a soft surface that to me resembles the surface of a sand dune, floating unattached to anything in space.

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No rotational light curve from Ultima Thule?

Data from New Horizons as it is quickly approaching Ultima Thule has found that even though the object is expected to be oblong or even two objects it has shown absolutely no variation in light as it rotates.

Even though scientists determined in 2017 that the Kuiper Belt object isn’t shaped like a sphere – that it is probably elongated or maybe even two objects – they haven’t seen the repeated pulsations in brightness that they’d expect from a rotating object of that shape. The periodic variation in brightness during every rotation produces what scientists refer to as a light curve.

“It’s really a puzzle,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. “I call this Ultima’s first puzzle – why does it have such a tiny light curve that we can’t even detect it? I expect the detailed flyby images coming soon to give us many more mysteries, but I did not expect this, and so soon.”

They have several theories, all implausible, to explain this. It could be they are looking at the object’s pole. Or maybe a dust cloud or numerous tumbling moons surround the object and hide the light variation.

Fortunately, we shall have an answer to this mystery in less than two weeks, when New Horizons zips past.

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Comparing Ryugu and Bennu

Link here. As much as they are alike, which is not surprising as they both come from the same asteroid family, the article notes the surprising differences.



Both asteroids are also liberally strewn with boulders – a challenge to mission planners on each team, who hope to descend close enough to scoop up samples for return to Earth. “It’s certainly more rugged than we had expected,” Lauretta says. 

But while boulders on Ryugu look to be unpleasantly ubiquitous, Bennu’s terrain is more varied, with more-obvious places where a safe touchdown might be possible. And, Lauretta notes, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is only recently arrived.

“We have a long time to explore and make the crucial decisions about where to go,” he says.

The biggest difference has to do with water. Even though scientists believe them to be portions of the same parent body, which broke apart between 800 million and one billion years ago, Bennu appears to be water rich, while Ryugu is less so. Within a week of arrival, infrared spectrometers on OSIRIS-REx were finding evidence of water-bearing minerals, and not just in localised patches. “We saw this in every single one of the spectra we have taken to date,” says Amy Simon, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

One of the reasons Bennu was chosen as OSIRIS-REx’s target, Lauretta says, was the hope it would be rich in water, and possibly in organic compounds.

The similarities and differences in the samples both spacecraft will bring back will be most revealing.

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New Horizons sees no hazards, will do closest fly-by of Ultima Thule

After three weeks of intense observations and seeing no significant objects orbiting close to the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, the New Horizons team has decided to go for the closest fly-by on January 1, 2019.

After almost three weeks of sensitive searches for rings, small moons and other potential hazards around the object, New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern gave the “all clear” for the spacecraft to remain on a path that takes it about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from Ultima, instead of a hazard-avoiding detour that would have pushed it three times farther out. With New Horizons blazing though space at some 31,500 miles (50,700 kilometers) per hour, a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal to the piano-sized probe.

We should begin to see more detailed images soon. Because of the speed in which New Horizons is traveling, it will not get very close until it is almost on top of Ultima Thule, so the best images will all occur over a very short span of time.

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Saturn’s rings are dying

Using new ground-based observations, scientists now predict that Saturn’s rings are dying at the fastest predicted rate, and will disappear within 300 million years, at the most.

Dr Tom Stallard, Associate Professor in Planetary Astronomy at the University of Leicester and Dr James O’Donoghue, who studied for his PhD at the University of Leicester, have found that Saturn’s rings are dying at the maximum rate estimated from Voyager 1 and 2 observations made decades ago.

The rings of ice are being pulled into Saturn by gravity as particles of ice under the influence of Saturn’s magnetic field. Dr O’Donoghue, who now works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said: “We estimate that this ‘ring rain’ drains the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn’s rings in half an hour. The entire ring system will be gone in 300 million years.”

Dr O’Donoghue believes that the rings could even disappear quicker than this. “Add to this the Cassini-spacecraft detected ring-material falling into Saturn’s equator, and the rings have less than 100 million years to live.”

Over the decades I have read numerous papers by scientists saying that rings this bright and large must be a relatively short-lived event, and that we are lucky to have seen them. This research only reinforces this conclusion.

At the same time, we do not yet know the frequency or the cause of the events that give rise such bright rings. It could be that such rings are short-lived, but happen frequently enough that it is still not rare to see them in any solar system. And we won’t know this until we get a more complete census of many solar systems, seen up-close.

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Astronomers discover most distant solar system object so far

Worlds without end: Astronomers have discovered a dwarf planet about 300 miles in diameter orbiting the Sun at a distance of 120 astronomical units, making it the most distant solar system object discovered so far.

“2018 VG18 is much more distant and slower moving than any other observed Solar System object, so it will take a few years to fully determine its orbit,” said Sheppard. “But it was found in a similar location on the sky to the other known extreme Solar System objects, suggesting it might have the same type of orbit that most of them do. The orbital similarities shown by many of the known small, distant Solar System bodies was the catalyst for our original assertion that there is a distant, massive planet at several hundred AU shepherding these smaller objects.”

“All that we currently know about 2018 VG18 is its extreme distance from the Sun, its approximate diameter, and its color,” added Tholen “Because 2018 VG18 is so distant, it orbits very slowly, likely taking more than 1,000 years to take one trip around the Sun.”

I guarantee there are more of these discoveries to come. Many more.

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OSIRIS-REx finds evidence of water on Bennu

Bennu from 15 miles

One of OSIRIS-REx’s instruments has now found evidence of water on the rubble-pile asteroid Bennu.

Recently analyzed data from NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has revealed water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.

During the mission’s approach phase, between mid-August and early December, the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) on its journey from Earth to arrive at a location 12 miles (19 km) from Bennu on Dec. 3. During this time, the science team on Earth aimed three of the spacecraft’s instruments towards Bennu and began making the mission’s first scientific observations of the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

Data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), reveal the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as “hydroxyls.” The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water. While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.

The image on the right, reduced to show here, was created from 12 images taken on December 2, 2018 from about 15 miles. If you click on the image you can see the full resolution photograph, which is quite incredible. While the asteroid’s shape is approximately what was expected from ground-based observations and computer modeling, the giant boulder on the limb on the bottom right is about four times bigger than expected.

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New Horizons completes another course correction before flyby

On December 2 New Horizons successfully completed another engine burn to refine its course for its January 1, 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule.

The maneuver was designed to keep New Horizons on track toward its ideal arrival time and closest distance to Ultima, just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1. At the time of the burn New Horizons was 4.03 billon miles (6.48 billion kilometers) from Earth and just 40 million miles (64 million kilometers) from Ultima – less than half the distance between Earth and the Sun. From that far away, the radio signals carrying data from the spacecraft needed six hours, at light speed, to reach home.

The team is analyzing whether to conduct up to three other course-correction maneuvers to home in on Ultima Thule.

The distance to Ultima Thule is still too much to produce detailed images. New Horizons however is going very fast, so in the coming three weeks this will change drastically, and for the better.

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Calculating Bennu’s future

In order to better constrain Bennu’s future fly-bys of the Earth, including the possibility that it could impact the planet, scientists will be using the data sent from OSIRIS-REx to better understand its orbit, its composition, its surface make-up, and its thermal properties, all factors that can influence its future path in space.

This is really important, as Bennu has a good chance of hitting the Earth in the future.

About a third of a mile, or half a kilometer, wide, Bennu is large enough to reach Earth’s surface; many smaller space objects, in contrast, burn up in our atmosphere. If it impacted Earth, Bennu would cause widespread damage. Asteroid experts at the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, project that Bennu will come close enough to Earth over the next century to pose a 1 in 2,700 chance of impacting it between 2175 and 2196. Put another way, those odds mean there is a 99.963 percent chance the asteroid will miss the Earth. Even so, astronomers want to know exactly where Bennu is located at all times.

The article provides a good overview of the difficulty of properly calculating Bennu’s orbit into the future, and how the data from OSIRIS-REx will help make those calculations more precise.

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OSIRIS-REx at Bennu

OSIRIS-REx has successfully completed its last maneuver engine burn to place it in proximity orbit around the asteroid Bennu.

The link takes you to the live NASA stream, which has been a bit hokey. This event is actually not that visually exciting, a bunch of engineers staring at computer screens awaiting data back from the spacecraft indicating that all has occurred as planned. In fact, some felt a bit staged, though the actual event was really happening.

The OSIRIS-REx team has released relatively little data so far, compared to most NASA missions. There will be a press conference in a week when they say they will release more information. I guess we will have to wait until then.

Update: the live stream has shifted to the docking of the manned Soyuz capsule at ISS, which is in itself a more riveting event than OSIRIS-REx’s last engine burn.

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Bennu from 85 miles

Bennu at 85 miles

The OSIRIS-REx science team today released a new image of Bennu, taken by the spacecraft from only 85 miles on November 16, two weeks ago Its contrast has been increased to bring out the details.

The asteroid continues to remind me of Ryugu, a rubble pile of boulders with few smooth spots. I suspect the OSIRIS-REx engineers are going to struggle as much as the Hayabusa-2 engineers are in an effort to find a safe spot to grab a sample. The advantage however for OSIRIS-REx is that the main body of the spacecraft doesn’t have to get as close to the surface as with Hayabusa-2. They will come down only close enough for the robot arm to touch down.

Rendezvous is set for December 3.

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OSIRIS-REx unfolds its robot arm

In preparation for its December 3 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu OSIRIS-REx successfully unfolded its robot arm for the first time since launch this week.

The website has a nice short video showing how the arm will grab its samples. Very innovative, and not what you would expect. The technique had to be clever because Bennu is so small and has such a tiny gravity.

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Scientists discover giant impact crater buried under Greenland ice

Scientists have discovered the existence of a giant impact crater buried under the Greenland ice.

An international team of researchers, including a NASA glaciologist, has discovered a large meteorite impact crater hiding beneath more than a half-mile of ice in northwest Greenland. The crater — the first of any size found under the Greenland ice sheet — is one of the 25 largest impact craters on Earth, measuring roughly 1,000 feet deep and more than 19 miles in diameter, an area slightly larger than that inside Washington’s Capital Beltway.

They think, based on the data, that this crater is very young, one of the youngest known on Earth. At the most is is no more than 3 million years old.

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Null result from Spitzer suggests Oumuamua was small

The uncertainty of science: The inability of the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope to detect the interstellar object Oumuamua as it exited the solar system suggests the object is small.

The fact that ‘Oumuamua was too faint for Spitzer to detect sets a limit on the object’s total surface area. However, since the non-detection can’t be used to infer shape, the size limits are presented as what ‘Oumuamua’s diameter would be if it were spherical. Using three separate models that make slightly different assumptions about the object’s composition, Spitzer’s non-detection limited ‘Oumuamua’s “spherical diameter” to 1,440 feet (440 meters), 460 feet (140 meters) or perhaps as little as 320 feet (100 meters). The wide range of results stems from the assumptions about ‘Oumuamua’s composition, which influences how visible (or faint) it would appear to Spitzer were it a particular size.

The new study also suggests that ‘Oumuamua may be up to 10 times more reflective than the comets that reside in our solar system – a surprising result, according to the paper’s authors.

These results fit the models that explain Oumuamua’s fluctuations in speed as caused by the out gassing of material, like a comet. They also do not contradict the recent hypothesis that the object might have been an alien-built light sail.

The simple fact is that we do not have enough data to confirm any of these theories.

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Bennu’s two hemispheres

Bennu's two hemispheres

The image above of the two hemispheres of the asteroid Bennu, cropped and reduced very slightly to post here, was created from several images taken by OSIRIS-REx on two different days last week.

These two super-resolution views of asteroid Bennu were created using eight 2.5-millisecond exposure images captured by OSIRIS-REx on two separate days. The view on the left is composed of eight PolyCam images taken over the span of two minutes on Nov. 1, 2018, when the spacecraft was about 126 miles (203 km) from the asteroid. The one on the right – showing the opposite side of the asteroid – was generated using eight images taken during the same two-minute time slot on Nov. 2, from a distance of about 122 miles (196 km).

The rock on the southern limb is the same in both images, merely seen from opposite sides. Bennu appears very similar to Ryugu, except that there do appear to be dark areas on its surface, possibly crater sites, that might be smooth enough for landing.

The rendezvous at Bennu will occur on December 3.

UPDATE: The OSIRIS-REx science team has now released a short movie showing Bennu’s rotation as imaged during this same time period.

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Dawn’s last look at Ceres

Ceres

The Dawn mission has ended, and the image on the right, reduced to post here, is one of its last views of Ceres, with the bright spots of Occator Crater clearly visible, before its fuel ran out. You can see the full resolution image by clicking on the image.

This photo of Ceres and the bright regions in Occator Crater was one of the last views NASA’s Dawn spacecraft transmitted before it depleted its remaining hydrazine and completed its mission.

This view, which faces south, was captured on Sept. 1, 2018 at an altitude of 2,340 miles (3,370 kilometers) as the spacecraft was ascending in its elliptical orbit. At its lowest point, the orbit dipped down to only about 22 miles (35 kilometers), which allowed Dawn to acquire very high-resolution images in this final phase of its mission. Some of the close-up images of Occator Crater are shown here.

Occator Crater is 57 miles (92 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep and holds the brightest area on Ceres, Cerealia Facula in its center and Vinalia Faculae in its western side. This region has been the subject of intense interest since Dawn’s approach to the dwarf planet in early 2015.

If NASA made any specific announcement about the end of the mission, I have missed it. Either way, this end is not a surprise, because they have made it clear for the past few months that the spacecraft was about to run out of fuel.

They have also posted today an image of Ceres’ largest mountain, Ahuna Mons.

Update: Even as I posted this, NASA sent out this press release: NASA’s Dawn mission comes to an end

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