A Weather Satellite Watched a Space Rock Burn Up Above Spain and Portugal

A map of the track of the vaporizing space rock that lit up skies over Portugal and Spain on May 18, 2024. The track was created from position measurements of the fireball flashes as seen by ESA's MeteoSat weather satellite. Courtesy ESA.
A map of the track of the vaporizing space rock that lit up skies over Portugal and Spain on May 18, 2024. The track was created from position measurements of the fireball flashes as seen by ESA's MeteoSat weather satellite. Courtesy ESA.

It’s been a momentous May for skywatchers around the world. First the big auroral event of May 10-11, next a flaming space rock entering over Spain and Portugal. The inbound object was captured by ground-based cameras and the MeteoSat Third Generation Imager in geostationary orbit.

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Finding The Age Of A Contact Binary “Moon”

There are millions of asteroids floating around the solar system. With so many of them, it should be no surprise that some are weirdly configured. A recent example of one of these weird configurations was discovered when Lucy, NASA’s mission to the Trojan asteroids, passed by a main-belt asteroid called Dinkinesh. It found that Dinkinesh had a “moon” – and that moon was a “contact binary”. Now known as Selam, it is made up of two objects that physically touch one another through gravity but aren’t fully merged into one another. Just how and when such an unexpected system might have formed is the subject of a new paper by Colby Merrill, a graduate researcher at Cornell, and their co-authors at the University of Colorado and the University of Bern.

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The Giant Planets Migrated Between 60-100 Million Years After the Solar System Formed

The migration of the giant planets had a hand in shaping our Solar System, including Earth. New research shows the migration happened much earlier than thought. Image Credit: NASA

Untangling what happened in our Solar System tens or hundreds of millions of years ago is challenging. Millions of objects of wildly different masses interacted for billions of years, seeking natural stability. But its history—including the migration of the giant planets—explains what we see today in our Solar System and maybe in other, distant solar systems.

New research shows that giant planet migration began shortly after the Solar System formed.

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If We Want to Visit More Asteroids, We Need to Let the Spacecraft Think for Themselves

Missions to asteroids have been on a tear recently. Visits by Rosetta, Osirix-REX, and Hayabusa2 have all visited small bodies and, in some cases, successfully returned samples to the Earth. But as humanity starts reaching out to asteroids, it will run into a significant technical problem – bandwidth. There are tens of thousands of asteroids in our vicinity, some of which could potentially be dangerous. If we launched a mission to collect necessary data about each of them, our interplanetary communication and control infrastructure would be quickly overwhelmed. So why not let our robotic ambassadors do it for themselves – that’s the idea behind a new paper from researchers at the Federal University of São Paulo and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

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DART Changed the Shape of Asteroid Dimorphos, not Just its Orbit

The asteroid Dimorphos was captured by NASA’s DART mission just two seconds before the spacecraft struck its surface on Sept. 26, 2022. Observations of the asteroid before and after impact suggest it is a loosely packed “rubble pile” object. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

On September 26th, 2022, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) collided with the asteroid Dimorphos, a moonlet that orbits the larger asteroid Didymos. The purpose of this test was to evaluate a potential strategy for planetary defense. The demonstration showed that a kinetic impactor could alter the orbit of an asteroid that could potentially impact Earth someday – aka. Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). According to a new NASA-led study, the DART mission’s impact not only altered the orbit of the asteroid but also its shape!

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An Asteroid Found Sharing the Orbit of Mars

The trojan asteroids of Mars. Credit: Armagh Observatory

Astronomers discovered another asteroid sharing Mars’ orbit. These types of asteroids are called trojans, and they orbit in two clumps, one ahead of and one behind the planet. But the origins of the Mars trojans are unclear.

Can this new discovery help explain where they came from?

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Citizen Scientists Find Fifteen “Active Asteroids”

Citizen Scientists working on NASA's Active Asteroids Project have discovered 15 active asteroids and one Centaur. But it required 8,000 people poring over 430,000 images to find them. Image Credit: Henry Hsieh

Nature often defies our simple explanations. Take comets and asteroids, for example. Comets are icy and have tails; asteroids are rocky and don’t have tails. But it might not be quite so simple, according to new research.

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DART Made a Surprisingly Big Impact on Dimorphos

Artist's illustration of DART

NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission was hailed a success when it collided with its target asteroid Dimorphos last year. The purpose of the endeavour was to see if it could redirect an asteroid and, since the impact, astronomers have been measuring and calculating the impact on the target. It is incredible that the 580kg spacecraft travelling at 6 km/s was able to impart enormous kinetic energy to the 5 billion kg asteroid.

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A New Space Telescope will Map the Universe and Help Protect the Earth from Asteroids

This artist's illustration shows NASA's SPHEREx observatory in orbit. The mission will launch in 2025. Image Credit: By NASA/JPL - https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/spherex, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=143819030

Can we secure our place in the Solar System? Not in any absolute sense because nature can be very unpredictable. But we can make the effort to safeguard our civilization by cataloguing potentially dangerous asteroids. An upcoming space telescope will help.

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OSIRIS-REx’s Final Haul: 121.6 Grams from Asteroid Bennu

These eight sample trays contain the final material from asteroid Bennu. The dust and rocks were poured into the trays from the top plate of the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head. 51.2 grams were collected from this pour, bringing the final mass of asteroid sample to 121.6 grams. Credit: NASA/Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebersold

After several months of meticulous, careful work, NASA has the final total for their haul of asteroidal material from the OSIRIS-REx mission to Bennu. The highly successful mission successfully collected 121.6 grams, or almost 4.3 ounces, of rock and dust. It won’t be long before scientists get their hands on these samples and start analyzing them.

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