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.”
It’s hard to believe it’s already been four years that NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has kept a watchful eye on our home star, but here we are: 2014, and the four-year anniversary of the Feb. 11 launch has come and gone. Amazing. But what’s even more amazing are all the incredible observations and discoveries SDO has made of the Sun in that relatively short time!
Check out the video above, a compilation from the talented people over at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, showing some of the best solar sights from SDO over the past four years.
Is Pluto a planet? A dwarf planet? A Kuiper Belt Object? All — or none — of the above?
Pluto has been a topic of scientific fascination since Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in February 1930, and then a topic of controversy after the IAU reclassified it as a dwarf planet in 2006. While conversations continue over Pluto’s planetary identity, at least one theme carried through the talks at the Pluto Science Conference in July 2013. See if you can figure out what it is in the video above! (Hint: it’s not difficult.)
NASA’s New Horizons mission will help us understand worlds at the planetary frontier by making the first reconnaissance of Pluto in July 2015. Read more about the mission here.
I don’t typically post things here about deep-space stuff (just to stay on theme) but this was too cool not to share. It’s a visualization of the Universe made from data acquired by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and shows the locations (and actual images, in most cases) of almost 400,000 galaxies as if we were in a starship soaring among them at many, many times the speed of light. (Without all the bothersome distortion effects of light-speed travel.)
Really, you’re going to want to full-screen this one. (And HD too if you can spare the bandwidth.)
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This is pretty neat — it’s a visualization of the Moon’s phases and libration all throughout 2014, made by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Visualization Studio. They’ve done these several times in the past, and this is the latest one.
For accuracy you just can’t beat it: the global terrain map you see in the rendering was made with actual images and measurements of the lunar surface obtained by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s LROC camera and laser altimeter. It’s the most detailed imaging of the Moon’s surface available!
So you know about the phases, but why is the Moon rocking back and forth like that? That’s the libration effect I mentioned — read more below:
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It’s getting so a spacecraft can’t take a decent picture these days without SOMEONE getting in the way! (*Ahem* MOON.) But then it just might be the lunatic we’re looking for…
The image above is one of five that were downlinked by NASA’s Lunar Atmospheric Dust Environment Explorer — aka LADEE (that’s “laddie” à la Mr. Scott, not “lady” à la Jerry Lewis) — and was taken on Feb. 8 with its wide-angle star tracker camera. We see a small portion of the lunar terrain illuminated by reflected light from the Earth from the spacecraft’s position about 156 miles above the Moon, which is about 100 miles lower than the ISS orbits above the Earth.
While not a particularly detailed image of the Moon like something we’d see from LRO, it’s still neat to see it close up and on its night side! The star tracker instrument is mainly a calibration tool for navigation… but that doesn’t mean it’s blind. (Just a wee bit farsighted.)
We don’t get to hear a lot about Ganymede these days, what with everyone paying so much attention to Titan and Enceladus and Europa and several other moons out there. Which is too bad because 1. Ganymede is plenty fascinating in its own right; and 2. it’s the LARGEST MOON IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM (and we shouldn’t forget it!) That’s why I was so happy to see this news come out today: geologists have created the first map of Ganymede that focuses exclusively on its complex geology, as observed close-up by the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft during their respective flybys. The resulting global map — which reminds me of some of the ornate illustrations that Giovanni Schiaparelli made of Mars in the 1880s — is a colorful layout of the many different terrains found across icy Ganymede, providing evidence of its complex history and a guide to future exploration missions.
Image credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Ctr/Wheaton/ASU/NASA/JPL-Caltech