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Hubble Watches As an Asteroid Crumbles

Hubble images of P/2013 R3 acquired from Oct. 2013 to Jan. 2014 Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA). Animation by J. Major.

Hubble images of P/2013 R3 acquired from Oct. 2013 to Jan. 2014 Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA). Animation by J. Major.

Our solar system is an active place, and that is no better illustrated than with these recent observations by the Hubble Space Telescope of asteroid P/2013 R3 breaking apart — and it’s not even disintegrating in Earth’s or any other planet’s atmosphere, but rather as it travels through space 480 million km away from the Sun!

Seen over the course of four months, the breakup of the 200,000-ton space rock is thought to not be the result of an impact event but rather the slight but unyielding force of solar illumination on an already compromised cluster of rubble, barely held together by its own gravity.

“This is a really bizarre thing to observe — we’ve never seen anything like it before,” says co-author Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany. “The break-up could have many different causes, but the Hubble observations are detailed enough that we can actually pinpoint the process responsible.”

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What Happens Around a Hungry Black Hole?

While what exactly goes on within the event horizon of a black hole is still well within the realm of theoretical physics (and it’s said that at the very heart of a black hole physics as we know it gets a serious kick in the pants) researchers are learning more and more about what happens in the immediate vicinity around a black hole, within the flattened disk of superheated material falling inexorably in toward the center. Using supercomputers, scientists can model the behavior of black holes’ accretion disks and see how gas behaves as it gets accelerated and drawn inward, heated to millions and even billions of degrees.

Here, an animation shows the activity around an active, non-rotating stellar-mass black hole. Taking 27 days to complete on a supercomputer at UT Austin, it shows “a turbulent froth orbiting the black hole” at relativistic speeds — that is, very close to the speed of light. Using this data, scientists are able to see how a black hole heats gas and emits different kids of x-rays… it’s the next best thing to being there! (Actually, it’s probably a much better thing than being there.)

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You Will Love This Animated Space Adventure.

That’s not a suggestion; it’s an order. :)

It doesn’t matter if it’s not scientifically accurate, or that asteroid fields don’t really work like that, or that you can’t “swim” through space. None of that matters with something at this level of cool. Enjoy!

Video and music by Professor Soap

Ghosts of Worlds Passed

Animation of Saturn's F ring and shepherd moons

Animation of Saturn’s F ring and shepherd moons

Saturn’s F ring is a fascinating structure. Made of fine icy particles — most no larger than the particulates found in cigarette smoke — it orbits Saturn just outside the A ring and is easily perturbed by the gravity of nearby moons and embedded moonlets, which create streamers and clumps that rise up in fanciful shapes.

This brief animation, made from 33 raw images captured by Cassini on December 26 (otherwise known locally as my birthday!) shows the F ring in action as it follows shepherd moons Prometheus and smaller Atlas around Saturn. Some motion is due to the orbits of the rings and moons, and some is due to the spacecraft itself.

You can watch a slower version of the animation below:

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Curiosity Has So Many Cool Things to Find

So many cool things to find…

Water, methane, organic compounds, Twinkies, Amelia Earhart’s plane… there’s just so many cool things for Curiosity to find on Mars!

This little production by Seattle-based Cinesaurus may be a parody of “Dumb Ways to Die” but there’s certainly nothing dumb about the exciting things that Curiosity’s already found in its brief time in Gale Crater… and there’s undoubtedly lots more to come. So enjoy the video, let your own imagination roam — er, rove — and keep an eye out for facehuggers. They’re tricky!

(If only Curiosity really could save Spirit!!)

Video: Cinesaurus (Vocals by Cara Peacock)

A Frightful Eclipse Seen From Mars

Yes, Mars gets eclipses too! This brief animation, made from ten raw subframe images acquired with Curiosity’s Mastcam show the silhouette of Mars’ moon Phobos (named after the Greek god of fear) as it slipped in front of the Sun’s limb on September 13 — aka the 37th “Sol” of the mission.

The animation spans an actual time of about 15 minutes.

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An Asteroid’s Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat


Vesta — the asteroid that was almost a planet — has its complex surface composition revealed in this animation made from images acquired by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft.

The video reveals the dappled, variegated surface of the giant asteroid Vesta, the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt. The animation drapes high-resolution false color images over a 3-D model of the Vesta terrain constructed from Dawn’s observations. This visualization enables a detailed view of the variation in the material properties of Vesta in the context of its topography.

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