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  • richardmitnick 5:03 pm on February 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids,   

    From Many Worlds: “Ceres, Asteroids And Us” 

    NASA NExSS bloc


    Many Words icon

    Many Worlds

    Marc Kaufman

    Ceres Up Close. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

    For most of us, asteroids exist primarily as a threat. An asteroid that landed around the Yucatan peninsula, after all, is generally considered to have set into motion the changes that resulted in the elimination of the dinosaurs.

    Other large in-coming asteroids laid waste to swaths of Siberia in 1908, dug the world’s largest crater (118 mile wide) in South Africa long ago, and formed the Chesapeake Bay a mere 35 million years past. And another large asteroid will almost certainly threaten Earth again some day.

    There is, however, a reverse and possibly life-enhancing side to the asteroid story, one that is becoming more clear and intriguing as we learn more about them where they live. Asteroids not only contain a lot of water — some of it possibly delivered long ago to a dry Earth — but they contain some pretty complex organic molecules, the building blocks of life.

    The latest chapter in the asteroid saga is being written about Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system and recently declared to also be a dwarf planet (like Pluto.)

    Using data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, a team led by the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome and the University of California, Los Angeles identified a variety of complex organic compounds, amino acids and nucleobases — the kind that are the building blocks of life.

    NASA/Dawn Spacecraft
    NASA/Dawn Spacecraft

    The mission has also detected signs of a possible subsurface ocean as well as cryovolcanos, which spit out ice, water, methane and other gases instead of molten rock.

    “This discovery of a locally high concentration of organics is intriguing, with broad implications for the astrobiology community,” said Simone Marchi, a senior research scientist at Southwest Research Institute and one of the authors of the paper in Science. “Ceres has evidence of ammonia-bearing hydrated minerals, water ice, carbonates, salts, and now organic materials.”

    He said that the organic-rich areas include carbonates and ammonia-based minerals, which are Ceres’ primary constituents. Their presence along with the organics makes it unlikely that the organics arrived via another asteroid.

    In an accompanying comment in the Feb. 16 edition of Science, Michael Küppers of the European Space Astronomy Center in Madrid makes the case that Ceres might be, or might once have been, habitable.

    The paper provides “the first observations of organic material on Ceres, confirming the presence of such material in the asteroid belt,” he writes. “Furthermore, because Ceres is a dwarf planet that may still preserve internal heat from its formation period and may even contain a subsurface ocean, this opens the possibility that primitive life could have developed on Ceres itself. It joins Mars and several satellites of the giant planets in the list of locations in the solar system that may harbor life.”

    Illustration of the minor bodies in the inner part of the Solar System, including Jupiter trojans and the main asteroid belt. These objects are byproducts of planet formation and have key information about that process. Detecting them in extrasolar systems may help us to understand the early evolution of planetary systems. (NASA)

    Asteroids are as ancient as the solar system, some 4.6 billion years old. They are the leftovers from the planet formation process that took place in the disk around the very early sun — pieces of rock that didn’t become parts of planets or moons and weren’t otherwise smashed to bits.

    Both their age and their composition have made asteroids increasingly interesting to space scientists studying how the solar system came to look and behave as it does. The result has been a suite of missions to asteroids organized by NASA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency, the Russian space agency Roskosmos, and the China National Space Administration.

    Many of the missions include substantial collaboration between different national space agencies. The Dawn effort has major European involvement and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu and the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission to Ryugu each have three principal investigators from the other agency.

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft
    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    JAXA Hayabasu 2 spacecraft

    Both spacecraft are now on their way, will spend months on their destination asteroids, and are designed to bring home samples (in 2018 for Hayabusa2 and 2023 for OSIRIS-REx.)

    NASA also approved two additional asteroid missions earlier this year. The first mission, called Lucy, will study asteroids, known as Trojan asteroids, trapped by Jupiter’s gravity.

    The Psyche mission will explore a very large and rare object in the solar system’s asteroid belt — an asteroid made of metal. Scientists believe it might be the exposed core of a planet that lost its rocky outer layers from a series of violent collisions. Lucy is targeted for launch in 2021 and Psyche in 2023.

    Left NASA Lucy; right NASA PSYCHE. NASA
    Left NASA Lucy; right NASA PSYCHE

    Why so many asteroid missions?

    I put the question to Harold C. Connolly Jr. of Rowan University, mission sample scientist for OSIRIS-REx and a co-investigator for the mission. He answered by email from Japan, together with Shogo Tachibana of Hakkaido University, who is a principal investigator for Hayabusa2. Both are co-principal investigators for the others’ sample analysis efforts.

    “The science is really driving the interest,” they wrote. “There now exists broader understanding that asteroids are time capsules to the past and can help illuminate the origin of Earth-like planets and potentially even the materials and conditions that lead to the origin of life.

    “The target asteroids of both missions are a treasure box of the earliest time period of the solar system, with such riches as prebiotic compounds (precursors to life-building organics) preserved in them.”

    In Japan, the Hayabusa2 mission is also a follow-on to the hugely popular original Hayabusa mission, which returned with grains from the asteroid Itokawa in 2010. Despite enormous difficulties and the failure of its lander, the spacecraft brought back enough sample to tell scientists that the asteroid was four billion years old, at one time was exposed to temperatures of 800 degrees centigrade, and much more.

    Hayabusa inspired so much interest in Japan that it led to not only the follow-on mission but also three movies, including one with star actor Ken Watanabe.

    In a phone conversation, Küppers of the European Space Astronomy Center expanded on the scientific importance of asteroids.

    He said that Ceres research has already determined that asteroid most likely was formed further out in the solar system and then migrated in. This conclusion flows from the observed presence of geological features and minerals on the surface that require the presence of water to form. Closer-in asteroids are believed to have had any water baked out of them, strongly suggesting that Ceres was once further from the sun.

    That asteroidal (and cometary) water plays an important role in the history of Earth. “The oceans on Earth certainly could have been filled with water, and organic compounds, from asteroids like Ceres,” Küppers said. Different kinds of water have different isotopic signatures, and the water signature on Earth is very much like that detected in some asteroids and comets.

    The Dawn spacecraft has already visited the large asteroid Vesta on its mission, and found minerals formed in water, a geology with steep cliffs and landslides, and the presence of an enormous crater at one of the poles. For Vesta, as for Ceres, a primary goal of the Dawn mission is to map the asteroid in various ways and with substantial precision. The overall goal, however, is to explore the conditions and processes found worlds as old as the solar system.

    While Vesta is a described as a “protoplanet” because of its size, Ceres is considered a dwarf planet (as well as an asteroid) because it has sufficient mass and gravity to be rounded like a planet. Vesta, and the other asteroids, are not. Itokawa, below, is considerably smaller than Ceres or Vesta, and so has been rounded far less.

    Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system, features areas with concentrations of shiny, white material. Scientists have described them as likely to be salts and ice. The dwarf planet contains about one third of the mass in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, yet it is still dwarfed in size by our moon. The more detailed images was taken by Dawn from 3,200 miles away. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

    NASA’s Dawn spacecraft captured this image of the asteroid Vesta while in orbit on July 18, 2011. The view looks across Vesta’s cratered and heavily-scarred south pole from a distance of about 6,500 miles. Vesta is the last remaining rocky protoplanet of the kind that formed the terrestrial planets. Numerous fragments of Vesta were ejected by collisions one and two billion years ago that left two enormous craters occupying much of Vesta’s southern hemisphere. Debris from these events has fallen to Earth as meteorites which have been a rich source of information about Vesta. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS)

    What was planned to be the biggest NASA asteroid mission is the Asteroid Redirect Mission. It was proposed as the first robotic mission to visit a large near-Earth asteroid, to collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface, and to then redirect it into a stable orbit around the moon. Once in orbit around the moon, astronauts would explore it and return with samples in the 2020s.

    The proposed mission was driven by science, but also was part of NASA’s plan to advance the new technologies and spaceflight experience needed for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s. What’s more, some space scientists are concerned about the possibility of a large asteroid heading our way, and they want to develop techniques for just slightly changing an in-coming asteroid’s path so it would miss Earth.

    Many in Congress were never excited by the asteroid re-direct plan, and the future of the mission remains quite uncertain.

    But the part of the mission involved with learning more about asteroid pathways and how they might be changed is still, at least indirectly, alive.

    That’s because the asteroid Bennu, the destination for OSIRIS-REx, is one that often comes close to the Earth. (The acrony, by the way, stands for the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer.)

    As explained on the NASA OSIRIS-REx webside, “Bennu is a B-type asteroid with a ~500 meter diameter. It completes an orbit around the Sun every 436.604 days (1.2 years) and every 6 years comes very close to Earth, within 0.002 astronomical units (the term used to describe the distance from the sun to Earth.) These close encounters give Bennu a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd century.”

    Some place that probability considerably lower, but it is nonetheless a sobering thought given the damage that asteroids have periodically inflicted on the Earth.

    See the full article here .

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    About Many Worlds

    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 1:49 pm on February 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, Goldstone Antenna,   

    From JPL: “Asteroid Resembles Dungeons and Dragons Dice” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    Feb. 10, 2017
    DC Agle
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

    This composite of 25 images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 was generated with radar data collected using NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California’s Mojave Desert.

    NASA DSCC Goldstone Antenna located in the Mojave Desert near Barstow in California, USA
    NASA DSCC Goldstone Antenna located in the Mojave Desert near Barstow in California, USA

    The images were gathered on Feb. 7, 2017, between 8:39 and 9:50 p.m. PST (11:39 p.m. EST and 12:50 a.m., Feb. 7), revealing an irregular, angular-appearing asteroid about 660 feet (200 meters) in size that rotates about once every three hours. The images have resolutions as fine as 12 feet (3.75 meters) per pixel. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR

    Radar images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 were obtained on Feb. 6 and 7 with NASA’s 70-meter (230-foot) antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. They reveal an irregular, angular-appearing asteroid about 660 feet (200 meters) in size that rotates about once every three hours. The images have resolutions as fine as 12 feet (3.75 meters) per pixel.

    “The radar images show relatively sharp corners, flat regions, concavities, and small bright spots that may be boulders,” said Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who leads the agency’s asteroid radar research program. “Asteroid 2017 BQ6 reminds me of the dice used when playing Dungeons and Dragons. It is certainly more angular than most near-Earth asteroids imaged by radar.”

    Asteroid 2017 BQ6 safely passed Earth on Feb. 6 at 10:36 p.m. PST (1:36 a.m. EST, Feb. 7) at about 6.6 times the distance between Earth and the moon (about 1.6 million miles, or 2.5 million kilometers). It was discovered on Jan. 26 by the NASA-funded Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) Project, operated by MIT Lincoln Laboratory on the Air Force Space Command’s Space Surveillance Telescope at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

    Radar has been used to observe hundreds of asteroids. When these small, natural remnants of the formation of the solar system pass relatively close to Earth, deep space radar is a powerful technique for studying their sizes, shapes, rotation, surface features, and roughness, and for more precise determination of their orbital path.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages and operates NASA’s Deep Space Network, including the Goldstone Solar System Radar, and hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program within the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

    JPL hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program within the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

    More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects can be found at:



    For more information about NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, visit:


    For asteroid and comet news and updates, follow AsteroidWatch on Twitter:


    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 8:30 am on January 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , Atira asteroids, , , Gaia-606, Initial Data Processing (IDT) software   

    From ESA: “Gaia turns its eyes to asteroid hunting” 

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    European Space Agency

    24 January 2017
    Paolo Tanga
    Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, France
    Email: Paolo.Tanga@oca.eu

    Benoit Carry
    Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, France
    Email: benoit.carry@oca.eu

    William Thuillot
    Observatoire de Paris, France
    Email: William.Thuillot@obspm.fr

    Timo Prusti
    Gaia Project Scientist
    Directorate of Science
    European Space Agency
    Email: timo.prusti@esa.int

    Whilst best known for its surveys of the stars and mapping the Milky Way in three dimensions, ESA’s Gaia has many more strings to its bow. Among them, its contribution to our understanding of the asteroids that litter the Solar System. Now, for the first time, Gaia is not only providing information crucial to understanding known asteroids, it has also started to look for new ones, previously unknown to astronomers.

    ESA/GAIA satellite
    ESA/GAIA satellite

    Asteroid Gaia-606 on 26 October 2016. Credit: Observatoire de Haute-Provence & IMCCE

    Since it began scientific operations in 2014, Gaia has played an important role in understanding Solar System objects. This was never the main goal of Gaia – which is mapping about a billion stars, roughly 1% of the stellar population of our Galaxy – but it is a valuable side effect of its work. Gaia’s observations of known asteroids have already provided data used to characterise the orbits and physical properties of these rocky bodies more precisely than ever before.

    “All of the asteroids we studied up until now were already known to the astronomy community,” explains Paolo Tanga, Planetary Scientist at Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, France, responsible for the processing of Solar System observations.

    These asteroids were identified as spots in the Gaia data that were present in one image and gone in one taken a short time later, suggesting they were in fact objects moving against the more distant stars.

    Gaia’s asteroid detections. ESA/Gaia/DPAC/CU4, L. Galluccio, F. Mignard, P. Tanga (Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur)

    Once identified, moving objects found in the Gaia data are matched against known asteroid orbits to tell us which asteroid we are looking at. “Now,” continues Tanga, “for the first time, we are finding moving objects that can’t be matched to any catalogued star or asteroid.”

    The process of identifying asteroids in the Gaia data begins with a piece of code known as the Initial Data Processing (IDT) software – which was largely developed at the University of Barcelona and runs at the Data Processing Centre at the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), ESA’s establishment in Spain.

    This software compares multiple measurements taken of the same area and singles out objects that are observed but cannot be found in previous observations of the area. These are likely not to be stars but, instead, Solar System objects moving across Gaia’s field of view. Once found, the outliers are processed by a software pipeline at the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) data centre in Toulouse, France, which is dedicated to Solar System objects. Here, the source is cross matched with all known minor bodies in the Solar System and if no match is found, then the source is either an entirely new asteroid, or one that has only been glimpsed before and has never had its orbit accurately characterised.

    Although tests have shown Gaia is very good at identifying asteroids, there have so far been significant barriers to discovering new ones. There are areas of the sky so crowded that it makes the IDT’s job of matching observations of the same star very difficult. When it fails to do so, large numbers of mismatches end up in the Solar System objects pipeline, contaminating the data with false asteroids and making it very difficult to discover new ones.

    “At the beginning, we were disappointed when we saw how cluttered the data were with mismatches,” explains Benoit Carry, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, France, who is in charge of selecting Gaia alert candidates. “But we have come up with ways to filter out these mismatches and they are working! Gaia has now found an asteroid barely observed before.”

    Asteroid Gaia-606 on 26 October 2016. Credit: Observatoire de Haute-Provence & IMCCE

    The asteroid in question, nicknamed Gaia-606, was found in October 2016 when Gaia data showed a faint, moving source. Astronomers immediately got to work and were able to predict the new asteroid’s position as seen from the ground over a period of a few days. Then, at the Observatoire de Haute Provence (southern France), William Thuillot and his colleagues Vincent Robert and Nicolas Thouvenin (Observatoire de Paris/IMCCE) were able to point a telescope at the positions predicted and show this was indeed an asteroid that did not match the orbit of any previously catalogued Solar System object.

    However, despite not being present in any catalogue, a more detailed mapping of the new orbit has shown that some sparse observations of the object do already exist. This is not uncommon with new discoveries where, as with Gaia-606 (now renamed 2016 UV56), objects that first appear entirely new transpire to be re-sightings of objects whose previous observations were not sufficient to map their orbits.

    “This really was an asteroid not present in any catalogue, and that is an exciting find!” explains Thuillot. “So whilst we can’t claim this is the first true asteroid discovery from Gaia, it is clearly very close and shows how near we are to finding a never-before-seen Solar System object with Gaia.”

    During the course of its five-year nominal mission Gaia is expected to observe several hundred thousand asteroids. Many of these will be in the main asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter.

    One of the strengths of Gaia is that it will also observe regions that are not extensively observed by existing ground-based surveys – this gives it the potential to find asteroids in areas where others would not, or could not, look. Ground-based observations are made during the night when the angle between a source and the Sun is fairly large. Gaia can make observations at any time and hence observes objects much closer to the Sun. In particular, Gaia is ideally situated to probe the region between the Sun and Earth. This is where the Atira asteroids are found, orbiting inside Earth’s orbit. To date, only 16 of these asteroids have been discovered.

    The dashed lines indicate regions of the sky that are unobservable by Gaia. All other regions are accessible to Gaia, including swathes within Earth’s orbit.

    Gaia-606 was found in the main asteroid belt, which is not surprising given how many asteroids exist there. However, Gaia also provides data from swathes of the sky not extensively observed by existing ground-based surveys giving it the potential to find asteroids in areas where others would not look. One such area is a region close to the Sun as seen from Earth. Observations are made from the Earth during the night when the angle between any source and the Sun is fairly large, whilst Gaia can make observations at any time and so observe objects much closer to the Sun. This gives Gaia the exciting potential to observe asteroids that orbit within Earth’s orbit – these are known as Atira asteroids and only sixteen are currently known.

    Gaia also has the potential to make discoveries at high ecliptic latitudes. Not because ground-based surveys of Solar System objects cannot observe there, but because they tend not to. The vast majority of asteroids exist in the ecliptic plane and, as a result, it is here that most surveys concentrate their efforts. Gaia has no such prejudices and scans the entire sky, giving it the potential to discover new asteroids in the less crowded areas missed by other surveys.

    “Whilst Gaia’s primary role in Solar System science remains its ability to characterise the movement and physical properties of known asteroids, it has now shown that it can also play a role in finding new ones, adding to its ever expanding catalogue of Solar System objects,” concludes Tanga.

    About Gaia

    Gaia is an ESA mission to survey one billion stars in our Galaxy and local galactic neighbourhood in order to build the most precise 3D map of the Milky Way and answer questions about its origin and evolution.

    The mission’s primary scientific product will be a catalogue with the positions, motions, brightnesses, and colours of the more than a billion surveyed stars. The first intermediate catalogue was released in September 2016. In the meantime, Gaia’s observing strategy, with repeated scans of the entire sky, is allowing the discovery and measurement of many transient events across the sky: among these are the detection of candidate asteroids which are subsequently observed by astronomers in the Gaia Follow-Up-Network. During the five-year nominal mission, Gaia is expected to observe about 350 000 asteroids of which a few thousand will be previously unknown.

    Gaia Follow-Up Network for Solar System Objects. Credit: Google Earth

    The nature of the Gaia mission leads to the acquisition of an enormous quantity of complex, extremely precise data, and the data-processing challenge is a huge task in terms of expertise, effort and dedicated computing power. A large pan-European team of expert scientists and software developers, the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), located in and funded by many ESA member states, and with contributions from ESA, is responsible for the processing and validation of Gaia’s data, with the final objective of producing the Gaia Catalogue. Scientific exploitation of the data only takes place once the data are openly released to the community.

    See the full article here .

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 7:35 am on January 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , , , , Venus mission shelved   

    From Smithsonian: “NASA Just Announced Two New Missions, But Shelved Others” 


    January 6, 2017
    Danny Lewis

    Though the new missions have exciting prospects, some scientists aren’t thrilled by the decision.

    This week, NASA announced two new missions set to explore asteroids in our solar system. During the 2020s, the space agency will launch two separate spacecraft to study a pair of asteroids. But while these missions could unveil new details about the origins of our cosmic neighborhood, the decision means that future missions to planets like Venus have been put on the backburner.

    In order to decide what missions to take up next, NASA put out a call for scientists to submit proposals to the Discovery Program. The program has spawned all sorts of missions exploring our solar system, including the Lunar Prospector, Kepler space telescope and the future Mars InSight lander. Now, NASA has announced its two latest winners: a pair of missions set to study two very different kinds of asteroids.

    NASA Mars Insight Lander
    “NASA Mars Insight Lander

    “These are true missions of discovery that integrate into NASA’s larger strategy of investigating how the solar system formed and evolved,” Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science division, says in a statement. “We’ve explored terrestrial planets, gas giants, and a range of other bodies orbiting the sun. Lucy will observe primitive remnants from farther out in the solar system, while Psyche will directly observe the interior of a planetary body.”

    While both missions are focused on asteroids, Lucy and Psyche are worlds apart. The Lucy mission is set to study multiple members of the Trojan asteroids—a swarm that orbits the gas giant Jupiter—in an effort to learn more about the materials that the outer planets are made from. Psyche, on the other hand, will travel to a 130-mile-wide asteroid that is almost entirely made of metal: a rarity that astronomers believe was once the core of a long-gone planet, Loren Grush reports for The Verge.

    Though these missions are intriguing, the decision to focus so much on asteroids is raising eyebrows among some scientists. Of the five finalists for this round of the Discovery Program, three were asteroid missions and two focused on the planet Venus. Some, however, thought NASA should be more interested in exploring the next planet over, Sarah Fecht reports for Popular Science.

    NASA also currently has two asteroid-focused missions in progress: the Dawn mission surrounding Ceres and the OSIRIS-REx mission en route to the asteroid Bennu. And the decision means it will be some time before Venus gets its time to shine.

    NASA/Dawn Spacecraft
    NASA/Dawn Spacecraft

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft
    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    “I thought for sure they’d pick a Venus mission. I found it pretty surprising,” planetary scientist Mark Marley tells Fecht. “If we’re trying to understand atmospheres on exoplanets, we really need to understand as much as we can about our own Venus. It’s very hard to get exoplanet data, and it’s always lower quality than what you can get in the solar system.”

    Unlike Mars and the airless asteroids, Venus has a thick, protective atmosphere. As Kaplan reports, that makes the third planet from the sun a great candidate to learn more about how atmosphere works and how it could shelter organic molecules. The last time NASA sent an orbiter to Venus was in the 1970s.

    That doesn’t mean all hope is lost for those hoping to send a new spacecraft to visit Venus. NASA will be picking a new mission for its New Frontiers program in 2017, and officials have said that exploring Venus and Saturn are two of its top priorities for the bigger-budgeted division, Fecht reports. In the meantime, Lucy and Psyche are sure to reveal fascinating new information about the earliest days of our solar system.

    Left NASA Lucy; right NASA PSYCHE
    Left NASA Lucy; right NASA PSYCHE

    See the full article here .

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    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

  • richardmitnick 5:44 am on December 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroid Ryugu, Asteroids, , , JAXA Hayabusa 2   

    From Seeker: “Quest to Reveal Asteroid’s Mysteries Before Japanese Spacecraft’s Visit” 

    Seeker bloc


    Dec 5, 2016

    Artist’s concept of Hayabusa-2 approaching asteroid 162173 Ryugu (1999 JU3). Image Credit: JAXA

    A Japanese spacecraft is on its way to some daring work at an asteroid. Hayabusa 2 is expected to reach Asteroid Ryugu in June or July 2018 and will drop several tiny landers on to its surface. The spacecraft itself will scoop up a sample of asteroid material for return back to Earth, just as its predecessor Hayabusa did at asteroid Itokawa a decade ago.

    It’s clear that a lot of engineering and precision is needed to achieve these maneuvers, far from home and in a zone that doesn’t easily give second chances. So as Hayabusa 2 moves towards its target, astronomers on Earth are looking at Ryugu as much as they can to learn about its properties.

    “Before you can send an interplanetary mission to a small body, it is important to know its orbit with the best possible accuracy, but you also have to know the object’s properties,” said Thomas Mueller, co-investigator for Hayabusa’s thermal infrared imager instrument, in an email to Seeker. He is also leading the efforts to do a characterization of Ryugu before Hayabusa 2’s arrival.

    The latest research is based on analyzing results from the European Herschel Space Observatory (in April 2012) and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope (between January and May 2013). The astronomers attempted to map the rotation of the object using its light curve (the change in light as seen from Earth), which in turn led to estimating its spin and surface composition. A paper based on the research was recently published on the prepublishing site arXiv, and has been accepted in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    ESA/Herschel spacecraft

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    The shadow of Hayabusa, along with a target marker (circled, at left), is shown on asteroid Itokawa in November 2005. Credit: JAXA

    Mueller, who works with the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, has been interested in learning about small bodies in the solar system since his Ph.D. thesis, which he completed in 1997 — where he tried to apply infrared measurements of well-known targets to objects that were less well known, but still scientifically interesting. He’s been working to characterize Ryugu (in collaboration with the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency, or JAXA) since 2008.

    “Mission targets like Itokawa (Hayabusa mission in 2005) or Ryugu (Hayabusa-2 mission) always attracted my attention for many reasons,” Mueller added, providing a list: “(1) The possibility to compare my model predictions with ‘ground-truth’ at some point; (2) the relation to space projects (I worked in the European Space Agency for several years); (3) the connection between near-Earth objects and Earth (NEAs as a risk for Earth, but also as the origin of life, water and heavy element supply); (4) to find out more about the building blocks of the planets.”

    Specifically for Ryugu, Mueller says the latest research will help engineers adjust their instrument settings, do risk assessments and develop plans for what the spacecraft will do when it gets there. Some of the things they have covered include Ryugu’s estimated size, brightness (known as albedo), rotation period and spin axis, thermal properties and where grains of different sizes are distributed.

    But there are challenges with observing a small object from so far away. The new paper notes that because Ryugu is nearly spherical, it made it hard to get a light curve. So the astronomers combined radiometric and lightcurve inversion techniques to come up with an estimation of Ryugu’s physical and thermal properties.

    A view of asteroid Itokawa based on data from the Hayabusa spacecraft. Credit: JAXA

    “In all our observations, we see Ryugu as a perfect point source (we cannot resolve the target from Earth distance),” Mueller added. “However, we are able to derive not only the size, shape, spin properties, but also things like the (most-likely) surface material (carbonaceous, complex organics?) or predominant grain sizes on the surface (1-10 mm).”

    He added that both Itokawa and Ryugu are “fantastic opportunities” to see how well models hold up against ground truth. The astronomers are lucky to have this opportunity, as only a fraction of small bodies are visited by spacecraft, he said.

    “Other experts in the field of small-body characterization/modelling will very likely pick up our published observations to make their own predictions,” he added. “It is very exciting for us to see who gets closest to the truth.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:19 pm on November 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, ,   

    From Rutgers: “Asteroid Impacts Could Create Habitats for Life” 

    Rutgers University
    Rutgers University

    No writer credit

    An international team of 38 scientists, including Rutgers’ Sonia Tikoo, has shown how large asteroid impacts deform rocks and possibly create habitats for early life on Earth and elsewhere.

    Around 65 million years ago, a massive asteroid crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, causing an impact so huge that the blast and its aftermath wiped out about 75 percent of all life on Earth, including most of the dinosaurs. It’s known as the Chicxulub impact.

    Split drill cores collected from the peak ring of Chicxulub crater. The left two cores consist of basement granite. The right two cores are impact melt rocks that were created by the heat associated with the impact. Photo: E. Le Ber

    In April and May, scientists on an offshore expedition drilled deep into part of the Chicxulub impact crater. Their mission was to retrieve samples from the rocky inner ridges of the crater – known as the “peak ring” – drilling about 1,600 to 4,380 feet below the modern-day sea floor to learn more about the ancient cataclysmic event.

    Now, the researchers have performed the first analysis of the core samples in a study published online today in the journal Science. They found that the impact deformed the peak ring rocks, making them more porous and less dense than models had predicted.

    “Chicxulub crater is the only crater on Earth that has such a well-preserved peak ring and since we can’t get samples of peak rings from other planets yet, it’s really our best window into understanding the formation of large impact basins anywhere in the solar system,” said Tikoo, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences. “We really didn’t know the exact physical mechanisms behind how peak ring craters form until this study.”

    For more information, please contact science communicator Todd B. Bates at tbates@ucm.rutgers.edu or 848-932-0550.

    See the full article here .

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    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is a leading national research university and the state’s preeminent, comprehensive public institution of higher education. Rutgers is dedicated to teaching that meets the highest standards of excellence; to conducting research that breaks new ground; and to providing services, solutions, and clinical care that help individuals and the local, national, and global communities where they live.

    Founded in 1766, Rutgers teaches across the full educational spectrum: preschool to precollege; undergraduate to graduate; postdoctoral fellowships to residencies; and continuing education for professional and personal advancement.

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  • richardmitnick 8:29 am on October 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , , NASA's New 'Intruder Alert' System Spots An Incoming Asteroid   

    From NPR: “NASA’s New ‘Intruder Alert’ System Spots An Incoming Asteroid” 


    National Public Radio (NPR)

    October 30, 2016
    Joe Palca


    Asteroids regularly pass by Earth, as depicted here. A new NASA system called Scout aims to identify the ones that will come closest to the planet.
    P. Carril/ESA

    A large space rock is going to come fairly close to Earth later tonight. Fortunately, it’s not going to hit Earth, something astronomers are sure of thanks in part to a new tool NASA is developing for detecting potentially dangerous asteroids.

    The tool is a computer program called Scout, and it’s being tested at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Think of Scout as a celestial intruder alert system. It’s constantly scanning data from telescopes to see if there are any reports of so-called Near Earth Objects. If it finds one, it makes a quick calculation of whether Earth is at risk, and instructs other telescopes to make follow-up observations to see if any risk is real.

    NASA pays for several telescopes around the planet to scan the skies on a nightly basis, looking for these objects. “The NASA surveys are finding something like at least five asteroids every night,” says astronomer Paul Chodas of JPL.

    But then the trick is to figure out which new objects might hit Earth.

    “When a telescope first finds a moving object, all you know is it’s just a dot, moving on the sky,” says Chodas. “You have no information about how far away it is. “The more telescopes you get pointed at an object, the more data you get, and the more you’re sure you are how big it is and which way it’s headed. But sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to make those observations.

    “Objects can come close to the Earth shortly after discovery, sometimes one day, two days, even hours in some cases,” says JPL’s Davide Farnocchia. “The main goal of Scout is to speed up the confirmation process.”

    The rock whizzing past Earth tonight was discovered on the night of Oct. 25-26 by the NASA-funded Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) on Maui, Hawaii. Within a few hours, preliminary details about the object appeared on a Web page maintained by the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Scout did a quick analysis of the preliminary details and determined that the object was headed for Earth but would miss us by about 310,000 miles.

    Pannstars telescope, U Hawaii, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA. A telescope in Hawaii first spotted an errant rock headed toward Earth. The Scout program quickly flagged it for follow-up observations.

    Additional observations by three telescopes, one operated by the Steward Observatory, another called Spacewatch, and a third at the Tenagra Observatories, confirmed the object would miss Earth by a comfortable margin. Astronomers were also able to estimate the size of the object: somewhere between 5 meters and 25 meters across. In case you’re interested, full details about the object’s trajectory can be found here.

    U Arizona Steward Observatory Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope
    U Arizona Steward Observatory Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope


    Tenagra Observatory

    Scout is still in the testing phase. It should become fully operational later this year.

    Now Scout is mainly dealing with smallish, very nearby objects. Complementing Scout is another system that is already operational called Sentry.

    NASA’s Other Asteroid Mission: Grab A Chunk And Put It In Orbit Around The Moon

    Scientists in Michigan have found a new dwarf planet in our solar system. It’s about 330 miles across and some 8.5 billion miles from the sun. It takes 1,100 years to complete one orbit. But one of the most interesting things about the new object, known for the time being as 2014 UZ224, is the way astronomers found it. David Gerdes of the University of Michigan led the team that found the new dwarf planet. Gerdes describes himself as “an adult-onset astronomer,” having started his scientific career as a particle physicist.

    He helped develop a special camera called the Dark Energy Camera that the U.S. Department of Energy commissioned to make a map of distant galaxies.

    Fermilab DECam
    DEam built at FNAL

    The dwarf planet that Gerdes and his colleagues have found isn’t the first distant dwarf planet astronomers have found in recent years. Sedna, Eris and Makemake have all been discovered in the past decade or so. Add to that Pluto, which used to be a planet until it was demoted when the definition changed.

    Sentry’s job is to identify objects large enough to wipe out a major city that might hit Earth in the next hundred years. “Our goal right now is to find 90 percent of the 140-meter asteroids and larger,” says Chodas, but right now he estimates they’re able to find only 25 to 30 percent of the estimated population of objects that size.

    That number should get better when a new telescope being built in Chile called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope [LSST] comes online. NASA is also considering a space telescope devoted to searching for asteroids.

    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC
    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC

    LSST Interior
    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile
    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile

    OK, so let’s say you find one of these monster rocks heading for Earth. What then? Astronomer Ed Lu says there is something you can do. He’s CEO of an organization called B612. It’s devoted to dealing with asteroid threats.

    “If you know well in advance, and by well in advance I mean 10 years, 20 years, 30 years in advance, which is something we can do, ” says Lu, “then you can divert such an asteroid by just giving it a tiny nudge when it’s many billions of miles from hitting the Earth.”

    NASA and the European Space Agency are developing a mission to practice doing just that.


    Lu says in the past decade, people who should worry about such things have begun to make concrete plans for dealing with dangerous asteroids.

    “I believe in the next 10 to 15 years we’ll actually be at the point where we as humans can say, ‘Hey, we’re safe from this danger of large asteroids hitting the Earth,’ ” he says.

    In the meantime, we’ll just have to hope that luck is on our side.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:44 am on August 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Asteroids, ,   

    From AAS NOVA: ” Images of an Activated Asteroid” 


    American Astronomical Society

    5 August 2016
    Susanna Kohler

    Graphic (collage) showing relative sizes of possible target asteroids and other known asteroids. ESA

    In late April of this year, asteroid P/2016 G1 (PANSTARRS) was discovered streaking through space, a tail of dust extending behind it. What caused this asteroid’s dust activity?

    Images of asteroid P/2016 G1 at three different times: late April, late May, and mid June. The arrow in the center panel points out an asymmetric feature that can be explained if the asteroid initially ejected material in a single direction, perhaps due to an impact. [Moreno et al. 2016]

    Asteroid or Comet?

    Asteroid P/2016 G1 is an interesting case: though it has the orbital elements of a main-belt asteroid — it orbits at just under three times the Earth–Sun distance, with an eccentricity of e ~ 0.21 — its appearance is closer to that of a comet, with a dust tail extending 20” behind it.

    To better understand the nature and cause of this unusual asteroid’s activity, a team led by Fernando Moreno (Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, in Spain) performed deep observations of P/2016 G1 shortly after its discovery. The team used the 10.4-meter Great Canary Telescope to image the asteroid over the span of roughly a month and a half.

    Gran Telescopio  Canarias at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, Spain
    Gran Telescopio Canarias at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, Spain

    A Closer Look at P/2016 G1

    P/2016 G1 lies in the inner region of the main asteroid belt, so it is unlikely to have any ices that suddenly sublimated, causing the outburst. Instead, Moreno and collaborators suggest that the asteroid’s tail may have been caused by an impact that disrupted the parent body.

    To test this idea, the team used computer simulations to model their observations of P/2016 G1’s dust tail. Based on their models, they demonstrate that the asteroid was likely activated on February 10 2016 — roughly 350 days before it reached perihelion in its orbit — and its activity was a short-duration event, lasting only ~24 days. The team’s models indicate that over these 24 days, the asteroid lost around 20 million kilograms of dust, and at its maximum activity level, it was ejecting around 8 kg/s!

    Comparison of the observation from late May (panel a) and two models: one in which the emission is all isotropic (panel b), and one in which the emission is initially directed (panel c). The second model better fits the observations. [Adapted from Moreno et al. 2016]

    Activation By Impact

    To reproduce the observed asymmetric features in the asteroid’s tail, Moreno and collaborators show that the ejected material could not have been completely isotropically emitted. Instead, the observations can be reproduced if the material was initially ejected all in the same direction (away from the Sun) at the time of the asteroid’s activation.

    These conclusions support the idea that the asteroid’s parent body was impacted by another object. The initial impact caused a large ejection of material, and the subsequent activity is due to the partial or total disruption of the asteroid as a result of the impact.

    To further test this model for P/2016 G1, the next step is to obtain higher-resolution and higher-sensitivity imaging (as could be provided by Hubble) of this unusual object. Such images would allow scientists to search for smaller fragments of the parent body that could remain near the dust tail.


    F. Moreno et al 2016 ApJ 826 L22. doi:10.3847/2041-8205/826/2/L22

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  • richardmitnick 10:11 am on July 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , ,   

    From SPACE.com- “Asteroid Defense: Scanning the Sky for Threats From Space” 

    space-dot-com logo


    July 28, 2016
    Elizabeth Howell

    This graphic shows all of the potentially hazardous asteroids (and their orbital paths) around Earth (not to scale). As of 2013, scientists had counted over 1,400 of these potentially hazardous asteroids. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Earth is hit every day by small bits of space dust. Slightly larger chunks burn up colorfully in the atmosphere, causing the shooting stars you see in the sky. Occasionally even bigger rocks hit our atmosphere; they are known as fireballs, because the light from them burning up is particularly bright. These tend to smack the Earth a few times a year and may produce a few fragments for rock-hunters to find.

    NASA and other organizations do regular scans of the sky to catalog any small bodies that are at risk of crashing into our planet. No imminently threatening bodies have been found yet, but it’s clear that sooner or later Earth will be struck by something big. The organizations are actively researching the best ways to protect Earth from asteroids, meteoroids or comets that may come crashing down.

    Asteroids refer principally to small, rocky bodies. Comets contain more ice and can also pose a threat to Earth. Before fragments enter our atmosphere, they are known as meteroids. During their path in the atmosphere, they are called meteors. If any of these pieces reach the ground, those pieces are called meteorites. The best hunting ground on Earth for meteorites is Antarctica because the ice makes it so easy to see the fragments, and the ground is not disturbed as much as a typical urban area or forest.

    The difference between a meteroid and an asteroid is a little vague. In 1961, The International Astronomical Union (the official body for naming objects in space) said a meteroid is much smaller than an asteroid, but bigger than an atom. A 2010 Meteoritics and Planetary Science paper led by Alan Rubin, a geophysicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggested that the limit for meteoroids be about 1 meter in size.

    Characterizing the threat

    It is clear that even small bodies can pose a threat; the asteroid that broke up over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was roughly 56 feet (17 meters) across, shattering glass and injuring hundreds of people. In 1908, an estimated 130-foot (40-meter) object exploded over Siberia and flattened trees over 825 square miles (2,137 square kilometers). Around 50,000 years ago, before human civilization began, a rock about 150 feet wide (46 meters) smacked into what is now called Arizona. It left behind Meteor Crater, which is roughly 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometers) wide today.


    Even bigger collisions happened far in the past. The dinosaurs were wiped out 66 million years ago by an object about 6 miles (10 km) wide, which left behind a 110-mile (180 km) crater in Mexico known as Chicxulub. But that’s nothing compared to evidence of another impactor found in 2014. A rock formation in our planet’s crust pointed to a possible impactor 23 to 36 miles (37 to 58 kilometers) across that smacked into Earth 3.26 billion years ago, just a few million years after life evolved.

    NASA began tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) in the 1970s. Its goal is to find objects that are at least tens of meters in size, “which could cause significant harm to populated areas on the Earth if they were to strike without warning,” NASA stated in 2014.

    Congress directed NASA in 1994 to find at least 90 percent of potentially hazardous NEOs larger than 0.62 miles (1 kilometer) in diameter, which NASA fulfilled in 2010. Congress also asked NASA in 2005 to find at least 90 percent of potentially hazardous NEOs that are 460 feet (140 meters) in size or larger. That’s supposed to be finished by 2020. NASA created a Planetary Defense Coordination Office in 2014 — a year after Chelyabinsk — to better coordinate its efforts, in response to an Office of the Inspector General report. Other space agencies such as the European Space Agency also have their own offices, and the different nations regularly collaborate with each other.

    An artist’s concept for the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission led by the European Space Agency to intentionally strike an asteroid and test deflection capabilities that could protect Earth.
    Credit: ESA

    Scanning the sky

    NASA works with several sky surveys to maintain a list of potentially hazardous objects. These include the Catalina Sky Survey (University of Arizona), Pan-STARRS (University of Hawaii), Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research or LINEAR (Massachussetts Institute of Technology) and Spacewatch (University of Arizona). These observatories are constantly upgrading their capabilities to try to catch fainter asteroids.

    Asteroids are also observed from space by several telescopes, but the one most regularly used for NEO searches is called NEOWISE.

    NASA/WISE Telescope
    NASA/WISE Telescope

    It’s the new mission of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope, which launched in 2009 and was revived from hibernation in 2013 to search for asteroids. The telescope is expected to keep operating until 2017, when the angle from the sun in its orbit will be too bright to search for asteroids. A follow-up mission called Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) has been proposed for 2021, but is competing against five other missions for funding. Mission selection will be announced in September 2016.

    It’s the new mission of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope, which launched in 2009 and was revived from hibernation in 2013 to search for asteroids. The telescope is expected to keep operating until 2017, when the angle from the sun in its orbit will be too bright to search for asteroids. A follow-up mission called Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) has been proposed for 2021, but is competing against five other missions for funding. Mission selection will be announced in September 2016.

    There are other NASA missions that are looking to get up close to asteroids to better characterize their composition. Some recent examples: The Dawn mission visited asteroid Vesta between 2011 and 2012, and has now been at Ceres (a dwarf planet) since 2015.

    NASA/Dawn Spacescraft
    NASA/Dawn Spacescraft

    OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is expected to depart for asteroid Bennu in 2018 for a sample-return mission, which will come back to Earth in 2023.

    NASA OSIRIS-Rex Spacecraft
    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    Additionally, NASA uses data available from other space agency missions that visited asteroids, such as the Japanese Hayabusa (completed) and Hayabusa 2 (in progress).

    NAOJ Hayabusa 2
    NAOJ Hayabusa 2

    Some planned missions will take even more daring steps at asteroids. NASA has been working on concepts for an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) that would have a robot move a small body into the moon’s orbit, for astronauts to study. Also: NASA, the European Space Agency and other partners are planning a mission called AIDA, or Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment. The goal is to change the path of a small moon orbiting the asteroid Didymos using a kinetic impactor.

    A kinetic impactor (perhaps with a nuclear bomb inside) would deflect the orbit, tugging the asteroid slowly using a spacecraft, redirecting it with solar heat, or blasting it with a laser. That is just one idea. There is ongoing research as to what sort of asteroid deflection technique would be best. The best approach depends on many factors, such as cost, the composition of the asteroid, time to impact and technology maturity. Studies are ongoing in these fields; in 2007, NASA said that non-nuclear kinetic impactors had the most mature technology.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:05 pm on June 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Asteroids, FRIPON   

    From Sky and Telescope: “FRIPON: A New All-Sky Meteor Network” 

    SKY&Telescope bloc

    Sky & Telescope

    June 21, 2016
    David Dickinson

    The innovative FRIPON network will engage professionals and the public in the hunt for space rocks.

    One of the FRIPON all-sky cameras stands watch outside the Paris Observatory.FRIPON

    On February 15, 2013, the world awoke to dramatic news as an asteroid roughly 20 meters across exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The asteroid approached Earth unannounced from a sunward direction, and weeks went by before researchers could analyze all the dash-cam footage, determine the rock’s trajectory, and recover debris from the surviving meteorite.

    Now, imagine a network of all-sky observing sentinels that speeds this whole process up to just days or even hours.

    That’s the goal of the Fireball Recovery and InterPlanetary Observation Network (FRIPON). A collaboration between the Observatory of Paris, the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), the University of Paris-South, the French National Museum of Natural History, and the Aix-Marseille University, this network of 100 cameras and 25 radio receivers provides continuous all-sky coverage over all of France. Catching a meteorite’s fall from various angles from known coordinates enables researchers to quickly and accurately determine the location of a possible strewn field for an organized search campaign.

    “If tomorrow a meteorite falls in France, we will be able to know where it comes from and roughly where it landed,” says Jérémie Vaubaillon (Paris Observatory) in a recent Nature.com article.

    Access mp4 video here .

    Sourcing Meteorites

    Most meteors seen in the night sky are just grains of dust, remnants of various comets’ passages, that burn up in our atmosphere without ever hitting the ground. French researchers estimate that 10 meteorites fall in France every year, but a meteor sighting followed by a subsequent meteorite recovery has been a once-a-decade affair. The rolling countryside of France isn’t exactly prime real estate for meteorite hunting — ancient stones from space stand out better against the sands of the Sahara or the pristine ice shelf of Antarctica.

    Now, FRIPON will give French meteorite hunters an edge, enabling them to recover meteorites before the space rocks are lost to erosion and earthly contamination.

    With FRIPON researchers hope to accomplish a ground recovery within 24 hours of a bolide sighting. To accomplish this, the cameras are placed 50 to 100 kilometers apart, many of them at educational and research facilities throughout France.

    Calculating a meteorite’s trajectory requires at least two images from two different stations. Additional stations can help get a clearer view during inclement weather. Even if the trajectory is initially well known, wind can strongly affect the location of the strewn field. Estimating the location becomes more complicated when the meteorite burns out, going dark before it falls. FRIPON

    You can see a searchable map of the FRIPON network, including two cameras based on Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean sea, and one each in Vienna, Austria, and Bucharest, Romania.

    Researchers hope to expand the FRIPON network into Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and other European countries in the coming years. Other networks are already operating in Europe, including the United Kingdom Monitoring Network (UKMON) and the Spanish Meteor Network. NASA also has its own network in the United States named the All-Sky Fireball Network, with three clusters of cameras across the U.S.

    In addition to aiding recovery, FRIPON will document the trajectory and direction of a meteorite’s fall, allowing researchers to estimate its final orbit and, perhaps, its source.

    Researchers with a FRIPON camera mounted atop the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria. FRIPON

    FRIPON is the first high-density, fully automated meteor observation system connected over a single network, says principle investigator François Colas (Paris Observatory). Other networks, such as one based in Australia, cover a larger area but with a more spread out cameras. Also, while most networks connect cameras that are privately owned and on separate networks, FRIPON’s central computer can look at the same detection from several different cameras on the same network. That means it can quickly estimate a meteorite’s strewn field down to a rectangular box that’s about 1 kilometer by 10 kilometers.

    It will be possible to get very fresh material with the least possible alteration due to our atmosphere,” says Colas. “The goal is to get the meteorite within 24 hours. This is also really new compared to other networks.”
    Expanding the Hunt

    Although only trained scientists will scout for meteorites initially, FRIPON hopes to invite the public to the hunt with the Vigie Ciel (“Sky Watch”) project. This will allow educators and amateur meteor hunters to gain access to FRIPON data so citizen and professional teams can quickly scour the countryside.

    French history is littered with tales of meteorites and meteorite falls. A stony meteorite fell near the town of Ensisheim in the Alsace region on November 7, 1492, and is now on display in the town’s small museum. Another meteorite fall on April 26, 1803, showered 3,000 fragments over the small town of L’Aigle. That find ended the controversy as to whether meteorites were of volcanic or extraterrestrial origin, and it gave rise to the science of meteoritics.

    Strangely, the number of meteorites recovered from France in the 20th century was about one per decade, a drop from one every two years in the 19th century. FRIPON may reverse this trend in the 21st century. So far FRIPON hasn’t resulted in a ground recovery yet, but it has already resulted in a few preliminary orbital calculations, and the project is continuing to mature.

    “In the end, we want to connect a meteorite with a parent body,” says Colas. “We are ready to search for meteorites!”

    See the full article here .

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    Sky & Telescope magazine, founded in 1941 by Charles A. Federer Jr. and Helen Spence Federer, has the largest, most experienced staff of any astronomy magazine in the world. Its editors are virtually all amateur or professional astronomers, and every one has built a telescope, written a book, done original research, developed a new product, or otherwise distinguished him or herself.

    Sky & Telescope magazine, now in its eighth decade, came about because of some happy accidents. Its earliest known ancestor was a four-page bulletin called The Amateur Astronomer, which was begun in 1929 by the Amateur Astronomers Association in New York City. Then, in 1935, the American Museum of Natural History opened its Hayden Planetarium and began to issue a monthly bulletin that became a full-size magazine called The Sky within a year. Under the editorship of Hans Christian Adamson, The Sky featured large illustrations and articles from astronomers all over the globe. It immediately absorbed The Amateur Astronomer.

    Despite initial success, by 1939 the planetarium found itself unable to continue financial support of The Sky. Charles A. Federer, who would become the dominant force behind Sky & Telescope, was then working as a lecturer at the planetarium. He was asked to take over publishing The Sky. Federer agreed and started an independent publishing corporation in New York.

    “Our first issue came out in January 1940,” he noted. “We dropped from 32 to 24 pages, used cheaper quality paper…but editorially we further defined the departments and tried to squeeze as much information as possible between the covers.” Federer was The Sky’s editor, and his wife, Helen, served as managing editor. In that January 1940 issue, they stated their goal: “We shall try to make the magazine meet the needs of amateur astronomy, so that amateur astronomers will come to regard it as essential to their pursuit, and professionals to consider it a worthwhile medium in which to bring their work before the public.”

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