Images of 42 of the Biggest Asteroids in the Solar System

This image depicts 42 of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. Most of them are larger than 100 kilometres, with the two biggest asteroids being Ceres and Vesta, which are around 940 and 520 kilometres in diameter, and the two smallest ones being Urania and Ausonia, each only about 90 kilometres. The images of the asteroids have been captured with the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

A huge team of astronomers have combined forces to use the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) to provide the sharpest view ever of 42 of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter.

Fittingly, the collection of images was released on the 42nd anniversary of the publication of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. In the book, the number 42 is the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” These 42 images represent some of the sharpest views ever of these objects  — which might contribute to answering these ultimate questions!

Plus, there’s a great poster of the asteroids, too:

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Climate Change is Making the Atmosphere Worse for Astronomy

climate change and observatories
Global climate change's effects will reach right up the skies, affecting such places as the VLTI in Chile. Courtesy ESO.

Modern astronomical telescopes are extraordinarly powerful. And we keep making them more powerful. With telescopes like the Extremely Large Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope seeing first light in the coming years, our astronomical observing power will be greater than ever.

But a new commentary says that climate change could limit the power of our astronomical observatories.

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New Images of the “Golf Ball” Asteroid Pallas

New images of Pallas reveal a "golf ball asteroid" landscape. Credit: MIT/Marsset et al.

In 1802, German astronomer Heinrich Olbers observed what he thought was a planet within the Main Asteroid Belt. In time, astronomers would come to name this body Pallas, an alternate name for the Greek warrior goddess Athena. The subsequent discovery of many more asteroids in the Main Belt would lead to Pallas being reclassified as a large asteroid, the third-largest in the Belt after Ceres and Vesta.

For centuries, astronomers have sought to get a better look at Pallas to learn more about its size, shape, and composition. As of the turn of the century, astronomers had come to conclude that it was an oblate spheroid (an elongated sphere). Thanks to a new study by an international team, the first detailed images of Pallas have finally been taken, which reveal that its shape is more akin to a “golf ball” – i.e. heavily dimpled.

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Astronomers Find a Galaxy Containing Three Supermassive Black Holes at the Center

Not all galaxies are neatly shaped, as this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 6240 clearly demonstrates. NGC 6240 is the result of three galaxies merging. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

NGC 6240 is a puzzle to astronomers. For a long time, astronomers thought the galaxy is a result of a merger between two galaxies, and that merger is evident in the galaxy’s form: It has an unsettled appearance, with two nuclei and extensions and loops.

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A double asteroid came uncomfortably close this weekend. Here’s what astronomers saw

The unique capabilities of the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope have enabled it to obtain the sharpest images of a double asteroid as it flew by Earth on 25 May. While this double asteroid was not itself a threatening object, scientists used the opportunity to rehearse the response to a hazardous Near-Earth Object (NEO), proving that ESO’s front-line technology could be critical in planetary defence. This artist’s impression shows both components of the double asteroid 1999 KW4 during its Earth fly-by.

On May 25th, 2019, a strange, double-asteroid (1999 KW4) flew past Earth at a distance and speed that is likely to make a lot of people nervous. As always, there was no danger, since the asteroid passed Earth at a minimum distance of 5.2 million km (3.23 million mi), over 15 times greater than the distance between Earth of the Moon, and its orbit is well-understood by scientists.

Because of this, flyby was the perfect opportunity for the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) to conduct a cross-organizational observing campaign of the asteroid 1999 KW4 as it flew by Earth. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) took part in this campaign and managed to capture some images of the object using the Very Large Telescope (VLT).

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Astronomers See Adorable Baby Planets Forming Around a Young Star

This artist's illustration shows two gas giant exoplanets orbiting the young star PDS 70. These planets are still growing by accreting material from a surrounding disk. In the process, they have gravitationally carved out a large gap in the disk. The gap extends from distances equivalent to the orbits of Uranus and Neptune in our solar system. Image Credit: J. Olmsted (STScI)

370 light years away from us, a solar system is making baby planets. The star at the center of it all is young, only about 6 million years old. And its babies are two enormous planets, likely both gas giants, nursing on gaseous matter from the star’s circumsolar disk.

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Bad News. Planets Orbiting Red Dwarfs Might not have the Raw Materials for Life

These two NASA Hubble Space Telescope images, taken six years apart, show fast-moving blobs of material sweeping outwardly through a debris disk around the young, nearby red dwarf star AU Microscopii (AU Mic). Red dwarfs are the most abundant and longest-lived stars in our Milky Way galaxy. AU Mic is approximately 23 million years old. Image Credit: NASA/STScI

New research from the Hubble Space Telescope and the ESO’s Very Large Telescope is dampening some of the enthusiasm in the search for life. Observations by both ‘scopes suggest that the raw materials necessary for life may be rare in solar systems centered around red dwarfs.

And if the raw materials aren’t there, it may mean that many of the exoplanets we’ve found in the habitable zones of other stars just aren’t habitable after-all.

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The Saturn Nebula Kind of Looks Like the Planet in a Small Telescope, But in One of the Most Powerful Telescopes on Earth, it Looks Like This

The Saturn nebula as imaged by the MUSE instrument on the ESO's Very Large Telescope. Image Credit: ESO/VLT
The Saturn nebula as imaged by the MUSE instrument on the ESO's Very Large Telescope. Image Credit: ESO/VLT

Saturn is an icon. There’s nothing else like it in the Solar System, and it’s something even children recognize. But there’s a distant object that astronomers call the Saturn nebula, because from a distance it resembles the planet, with its pronounced ringed shape.

The Saturn nebula bears no relation to the planet, except in shape. It’s about five thousand light years away, so in a small backyard telescope, it does resemble the planet. But when astronomers train large telescopes on it, the illusion falls apart.

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Direct Observations of a Planet Orbiting a Star 63 Light-Years Away

This artist’s view shows the planet orbiting the young star Beta Pictoris. This exoplanet is the first to have its rotation rate measured. Its eight-hour day corresponds to an equatorial rotation speed of 100 000 kilometres/hour — much faster than any planet in the Solar System.

In the past thirty years, the number of planets discovered beyond our Solar System has grown exponentially. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of our technology, the vast majority of these exoplanets have been discovered by indirect means, often by detecting the transits of planets in front of their stars (the Transit Method) or by the gravitational influence they exert on their star (the Radial Velocity Method).

Very few have been imaged directly, where the planets have been observed in visible light or infrared wavelengths. One such planet is Beta Pictoris b, a young massive exoplanet that was first observed in 2008 by a team from the European Southern Observatory (ESO). Recently, the same team tracked this planet as it orbited its star, resulting in some stunning images and an equally impressive time-lapse video.

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