NASA’s TESS Watched an Outburst from Comet 46P/Wirtanen

TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, has imaged an outburst from the comet 46P/Wirtanen. It caught the outburst in what NASA is calling the clearest images yet of a comet outburst from start to finish. A comet outburst is a significant but temporary increase in the comet’s activity, outside of the normal sunlight-driven vaporization of ices that creates a comet’s coma and tail.

Astronomers aren’t certain what causes them, but a new study based on this observation is shedding some light on them.

Continue reading “NASA’s TESS Watched an Outburst from Comet 46P/Wirtanen”

December Meteor Squalls: Prospects for the 2019 Geminids and Ursids

2019 Geminids

December means chillier climes for northern hemisphere residents, a time to huddle inside near the campfire, both real and cyber. I’ve always thought this was a shame, as the cold crisp nights of winter also offer up sharp, clear skies. Over the past decade or so, December gives observers another reason to brave the cold: the Geminids.

Continue reading “December Meteor Squalls: Prospects for the 2019 Geminids and Ursids”

New Project Headed by Apollo’s Charlie Duke to Send Messages to Space

When astronaut Charlie Duke walked on the Moon in April of 1972 during the Apollo 16 mission, he brought along a very personal memento with a message he wanted to leave behind.   

“When I walked on the Moon, I took a photo of my family along and wrote a brief message on the back of the photo to leave on the Moon,” Duke said. “I wanted my family to be part of my mission and it was my way of taking them with me – to celebrate my family.”

Duke has now helped spearhead a project that allows people on Earth to send their message into space. He says this project, called AstroGrams, enables anyone to celebrate, commemorate or communicate in space in a truly unique way.

Continue reading “New Project Headed by Apollo’s Charlie Duke to Send Messages to Space”

Why Are Particles Getting Ejected Off of Asteroid Bennu?

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at asteroid Bennu in December 2018, and just one week later, it discovered something unusual about Bennu: the asteroid was ejecting particles into space.

The spacecraft’s navigation camera first spotted the particles, but scientists initially thought they were just stars in the background. After closer scrutiny, the OSIRIS-REx team realized they were particles of rock, and were concerned that they might pose a hazard.

Continue reading “Why Are Particles Getting Ejected Off of Asteroid Bennu?”

China’s Yutu-2 Rover has now Traveled Over 345 Meters Across the Surface of the Moon

This image shows a lot of detail of the Yutu rover. Image: Chinese Academy of Sciences/China National Space Administration/The Science and Application Centre for Moon and Deep Space Exploration/Emily Lakdawalla.

On January 3rd, 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 lander became the first mission in history to make a soft-landing on the far side of the Moon. After setting down in the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the rover element of the mission (Yutu 2) deployed and began exploring the lunar surface. In that time, the rover has traveled a total of 345.059 meters (377 yards) through previously unexplored territory.

Continue reading “China’s Yutu-2 Rover has now Traveled Over 345 Meters Across the Surface of the Moon”

A New Way to Measure the Age of the Milky Way

Like many other spiral galaxies in the Universe, the Milky Way Galaxy consists of two disk-like structures – the thin disk and the thick disk. The thick disk, which envelopes the thin disk, contains about 20% of the Milky Way’s stars and is thought to be the older of the pair based on the composition of its stars (which have greater metallicity) and its puffier nature.

However, in a recent study, a team of 38 scientists led by researchers from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in Three Dimensions (ASTRO-3D) used data from the now-retired Kepler mission to measure starquakes in the Milky Way’s disk. From this, they have revised the official estimates on the age of the Milky Way’s thick disk, which they conclude is around 10 billion years old.

Continue reading “A New Way to Measure the Age of the Milky Way”

It’s Time to Decide. Where Should OSIRIS-REx Take a Sample from Bennu?

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx arrived at asteroid Bennu in December 2018. During the past year, it’s been imaging the surface of the asteroid extensively, looking for a spot to take a sample from. Though the spacecraft has multiple science objectives, and a suite of instruments to meet them, the sample return is the key objective.

Now, NASA has narrowed the choice down to four potential sampling locations on the surface of the asteroid.

Continue reading “It’s Time to Decide. Where Should OSIRIS-REx Take a Sample from Bennu?”

Neptune-Sized Planet Found Orbiting a Dead White Dwarf Star. Here’s the Crazy Part, the Planet is 4 Times Bigger Than the Star

Astronomers have discovered a large Neptune-sized planet orbiting a white dwarf star. The planet is four times bigger than the star, and the white dwarf appears to be slowly destroying the planet: the heat from the white dwarf is evaporating material from the planet’s atmosphere, forming a comet-like tail.

Continue reading “Neptune-Sized Planet Found Orbiting a Dead White Dwarf Star. Here’s the Crazy Part, the Planet is 4 Times Bigger Than the Star”