While many skywatchers, scientists, and astronomy enthusiasts around the world wait to see if comet ISON survives its perihelion — that is, its closest pass by the Sun — on Nov. 28, the MESSENGER spacecraft has captured an image of the incoming comet from its position in orbit around Mercury!
The image above, shared today on the MESSENGER website, shows ISON from a distance of 22.5 million miles, and just over 42 million miles from the Sun. At perihelion ISON will come within a scant 730,000 miles of the Sun. Whether or not it survives its Thanksgiving Day encounter has yet to be seen.
It’s a labor of love: using hundreds of thousands of real images taken by NASA’s Cassini, Galileo, Voyager, and other space exploration missions to create a stunning feature-length, high-definition IMAX movie that showcases the beauty of our Solar System on the big screen like never before. This is the achievement of “In Saturn’s Rings,” a project by filmmaker Stephen van Vuuren that’s been years in the making and, based on this latest teaser trailer, beautifully executed.
The footage is made entirely from real photographs using Ken Burns-style photoanimation and multiplane photoanimation. No computer-generated images, painting, cloning, tweening, morphing, texture maps, camera projection or 3D models were used… even the “stargate” titles are made using photos – an 8,000-photo mosaic of all-sky zoomed really fast gives the blurred appearance. And, according to van Vuuren, “a computer is actually not even required to do this – it could all be done exactly using photoanimation techniques from 100 years ago.”
(Of course 100 years ago, touring Saturn with a nuclear-powered spacecraft was only a distant sci-fi dream!)
Learn more about the non-profit In Saturn’s Rings film project on the official website here, and help get the ‘real’ orchestral score recorded (Adagio for Strings by the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra) by donating to the Kickstarter campaign here.
“A film is – or should be – more like music than fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings.”
– Stanley Kubrick
In theaters summer 2014.
Just when scientists thought they had a tidy theory for how the giant asteroid Vesta formed, a new paper from NASA’s Dawn mission suggests the history is more complicated.
If Vesta’s formation had followed the script for the formation of rocky planets like our own, heat from the interior would have created distinct, separated layers of rock (generally, a core, mantle and crust). In that story, the mineral olivine should concentrate in the mantle.
However, as described in a paper in this week’s issue of the journal Nature, that’s not what Dawn’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) instrument found. The observations of the huge craters in Vesta’s southern hemisphere that exposed the lower crust and should have excavated the mantle did not find evidence of olivine there. Scientists instead found clear signatures of olivine in the surface material in the northern hemisphere.
Every few days or so I like to check the “Close Approaches” page of JPL’s Near-Earth Object Program, just to see what sorts of cosmic objects are whizzing by our planet; how big they are, when they’ll come, and how far they’ll (hopefully!) miss us by. Most of them are relatively small asteroids several dozen meters in width, passing us at a few tens of lunar distances (avg. distance to the Moon is about 370,000 km/235,000 miles or so.) Every now and then, though, something passes us by closely, coming within a handful of lunar distances — or even closer than the Moon itself. These events spark my interest as they remind us that there’s a lot of bits of solar system out there, and sometimes (while we’re busy doing other things) the bigger pieces get unnervingly close.
Yesterday JPL’s NEO specialists Don Yeomans and Paul Chodas posted an article about some “surprising discoveries” of three recently-found asteroids — all of which are of considerable size (two ~19 km/12 miles wide and one 2 km) and the third of which passes by closely enough to be considered “potentially hazardous” (as opposed to merely “near Earth”). Curious? Read on…
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Launched on its historic voyage to Jupiter on October 18, 1989, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft also got some good looks at several members of our solar system before it reached the giant planet — and one of them was the 12-mile-long asteroid Gaspra, of which it made its closest pass on October 29, 1991.
The image above is a high resolution enhanced-color mosaic of Gaspra made from images Galileo acquired from about 3,300 miles away. Ten minutes later Galileo passed Gaspra at 995 miles — it was the first close pass of an asteroid by a manmade spacecraft!
Like some kind of stellar superhero (or maybe a cosmic vampire!) our Sun’s surface splits apart and then fuses itself back together in this mesmerizing video from SDO and the folks at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center — check it out!
All right now, while the Sun doesn’t really have skin like we do or a hard surface like the Earth, it does have multiple layers of varying density and temperature, all wrapped and bound and pierced by intense magnetic fields (hm… sounds a little kinky!) This is what we’re seeing here — magnetic fields filled with super-hot solar plasma playing across the Sun. NASA even titled this video “Canyon of Fire” although that’s taking poetic license too… there’s no fire on the Sun.
Still, the event, which occurred on Sept. 29-30, is amazing to watch through SDO’s UV-sensitive eyes! Our home star is quite a dynamic thing (luckily for us and all life on Earth.)
Read more about what’s happening here.
Video credit: NASA/SDO/GSFC
There are over 10,000 near-Earth objects (NEOs) that have been identified so far, asteroids and comets of varying sizes that approach the Earth’s orbital distance to within about 28 million miles (45 million km). Of the 10,000 discoveries, roughly 10 percent are larger than six-tenths of a mile (one kilometer) in size – large enough to have disastrous global consequences should one impact the Earth.
This is one of them.
First discovered in February 1950, 1950 DA is a 1.1-km-wide asteroid that was observed for 17 days and then disappeared from view. Then it was spotted again on Dec. 31, 2000 — literally the eve of the 21st century. Coupled with radar observations a few weeks later, in March 2001, it was found that, along with a rather high rotation rate (2.1 hours) asteroid 1950 DA has a trajectory that will bring it very close to Earth on March 16, 2880. How close? Close enough that, within a specific 20-minute window, a collision can not be entirely ruled out.
The image above was made from radar observations by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in March 2001, when 1950 DA passed within 7.8 million km of Earth. Are we looking at the mug shot of a future continent-killer?