Blog Archives

Rings Discovered Around an Asteroid

Artist's impression of the view from the asteroid Chariklo. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

Artist’s impression of the view from the asteroid Chariklo. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

We all know that Saturn is encircled by a system of rings, and perhaps you also know about the fainter rings around Uranus, Jupiter, and Neptune. But today, ESO astronomers have revealed a surprising discovery: there are also rings surrounding the asteroid 10199 Chariklo, a small, distant world orbiting the Sun far beyond Saturn.

This makes 250-km-wide Chariklo the fifth world ever found to have rings, after the four planets mentioned previously, and, based on the observations, it could also even have its own moon.

“As well as the rings, it’s likely that Chariklo has at least one small moon still waiting to be discovered,” said Felipe Braga-Ribas of the Observatório Nacional/MCTI in Rio de Janeiro who planned the observation campaign and is lead author on the new paper.

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What’s Inside an Asteroid?

Schematic of the peanut-shaped asteroid Itokawa (ESO/JAXA)

Schematic of the peanut-shaped asteroid Itokawa (ESO/JAXA)

What are asteroids made of? While composed of metals, rocks, ices, and also many elements that are difficult to find and retrieve here on Earth — hence the growing interest in asteroid-mining missions — these drifting denizens of the Solar System have many different possible ways of forming. Some may be dense hunks of rock and metal, created during violent collisions and breakups of once-larger bodies, while others may be little more than loose clusters of gravel held together by gravity. Knowing how to determine the makeup of an asteroid is important to astronomers, not only to know its history but also to be better able to predict its behavior as it moves through space, interacting with other bodies — other asteroids, future exploration craft, radiation from the Sun, and potentially (although we hope not!) our own planet Earth.

Now, using the European Southern Observatory’s New Technology Telescope (NTT) researchers have probed the internal structure of the 535-meter-long near-Earth asteroid Itokawa, and found out that different parts have greatly varying densities, possibly an indication of how it — and others like it — formed.

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Earth-Sized Alien Planet Found Around the Stars Next Door

Artist’s impression of a planet discovered orbiting Alpha Centauri B, a member of the triple star system that is the closest to Earth. Our Sun is visible to the upper right. (ESO/L. Calçada)

These days it seems exoplanets are being discovered nearly every week, with “super-Earths”, “hot Jupiters” and “cold Neptunes” being identified (or at least announced as solid candidates) within star systems all around our neck of the galaxy. To top it all off, today the European Southern Observatory announced that an Earth-mass world has now been found orbiting Alpha Centauri B — quite literally the “star next door.”

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From the LITD Archives – VLT: A Space Opera

Can’t see the movie below? Watch on YouTube here.

Here’s an enchanting video by the European Southern Observatory highlighting the discoveries of their Very Large Telescope (VLT) array, high in the mountains of the Atacama Desert in Chile. The Atacama is the driest place on Earth, far from the light pollution of major cities, and thus provides the clearest, darkest skies allowing these massive telescopes to peer deep into the universe. The discoveries they have made have been nothing short of groundbreaking.

The skies over the ESO sites in Chile are so dark that on a clear moonless night it is possible to see your shadow cast by the light of the Milky Way alone.

The images are beautiful, the music – James Newton Howard’s score from Lady in the Water – is beautiful, even the telescopes themselves are beautiful, with their futuristic, spartan geometries and perfectly engineered forms. They look like another generation’s science fiction but they’re very much science fact, for this generation and hopefully many more to come.

Credit: ESO/Hubblecast

Also check out ESO’s recent video from their VISTA telescope, zooming into the Sculptor Galaxy…read more on Universe Today.

Originally posted on June 19, 2010.

VLT: A Space Opera

Here’s an enchanting video by the European Southern Observatory highlighting the discoveries of their Very Large Telescope (VLT) array, high in the mountains of the Atacama Desert in Chile. The Atacama is the driest place on Earth, far from the light pollution of major cities, and thus provides the clearest, darkest skies allowing these massive telescopes to peer deep into the universe. The discoveries they have made have been nothing short of groundbreaking.

The skies over the ESO sites in Chile are so dark that on a clear moonless night it is possible to see your shadow cast by the light of the Milky Way alone.

The images are beautiful, the music – James Newton Howard’s score from Lady in the Water – is beautiful, even the telescopes themselves are beautiful, with their futuristic, spartan geometries and perfectly engineered forms. They look like another generation’s science fiction but they’re very much science fact, for this generation and hopefully many more to come.

Credit: ESO/Hubblecast

Can’t see the movie above? Watch on YouTube here. Also check out ESO’s recent video from their VISTA telescope, zooming into the Sculptor Galaxy…read more on Universe Today.

Inside the Hurricane

Infrared image of the Great Red Spot

Temperature differences within Jupiter's giant storms revealed

Great Red Spot from Voyager 1

The largest storm in the solar system, Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, is a monstrous 15,000-mile-wide hurricane that’s been swirling in the giant planet’s mid-lower latitudes for at least 300 years. It’s believed that the storm’s colors are caused by the different elements within Jupiter’s upper atmosphere… ammonia, methane, water, hydrocarbons and other chemicals that create a varied palette of oranges, whites and browns. Recently an infrared instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) peered into the Great Red Spot and revealed regions of hot and cold swirls that had never been seen before, giving a new sense of structure to the storm and causality to the color variations seen in visible light.

“We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated.”

– Glenn Orton, team leader

Although it has decreased in size since the Voyager 1 spacecraft first imaged it closely in 1979, the Great Red Spot is still large enough to contain two or thee Earths side-by-side within it.

Read more in AstronomyNow’s article First look at weather inside Jupiter’s red spot.

Image: ESO/NASA/JPL/ESA/L. Fletcher

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