Category: Solar System


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Phys.org

December 11, 2015 by Bob Yirka report
ALMA prototype-antennas at the ALMA test facility. Credit: ESO

(Phys.org)—Two separate teams of researchers (one from Mexico, the other Sweden), have incited skepticism among the astronomy community by posting papers on the preprint server arXiv each describing a different large object they observed in the outer edges of the solar system. Both teams made their observations after reviewing data from ALMA—a cluster of radio dishes in the Chilean mountains.

One of the objects was found to be near W Aquilae in the night sky—the other adjacent to Alpha Centauri . Both groups report being skeptical at first regarding a faint glow, but monitored what they had seen nonetheless—to their surprise they found that the objects appeared to move relative to the stars behind them, which suggested they might be relatively close and that they might be orbiting the sun. Neither group was able to gain much evidence regarding the properties of the objects they had spied, because both of them were only able to make two observations, but both teams suggest there was enough data to allow for ruling out the object being an ordinary star.

The Swedish team nick-named the object they observed Gna, after a Nordic God known for its swiftness, and have told the press they had no intention of suggesting they had found the mythical Planet X which supposedly lies somewhere beyond Pluto. Instead they suggest it might be a large asteroid. The team from Mexico went a little further suggesting that the object they observed might possibly turn out to be a brown dwarf.

 

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by Dr. Tony Phillips.

GEMINID METEOR SHOWER–TONIGHT!

 

The annual Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight, Dec. 13-14, as Earth passes through a stream of gravelly debris from “rock comet” 3200 Phaethon. Dark-sky observers in both hemispheres could see as many as 120 meteors per hour during the dark hours between midnight and sunrise on Dec. 14th. Last night, Dec. 12-13, NASA’s all-sky meteor network detected 15 Geminid fireballs over the USA. That number will surely grow on peak night–tonight! Got clouds? Listen for Geminid echoes in the audio feed from our live meteor radar.

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Geminids meteor shower prediction: Moonless and marvelous
  • Geminids meteor shower is peaking
  • Geminid meteors can flash into view anywhere in the night sky

(Sky and Telescope)The nights of December 13-14 offer dark skies for a popular, underappreciated meteor display.

The Geminid meteor shower competes with August’s Perseids for showiness — yet it’s not nearly as well-known. The Geminids are easier on your sleep schedule, too. Their radiant (near Castor in Gemini) climbs as high by 11 p.m. standard time (45 degrees above the local horizon) as the Perseid radiant does by 2 a.m. daylight time on the peak Perseid nights. The higher the radiant, the more meteors you’ll see.

The Geminid meteors can flash into view anywhere in the late-night sky when the shower peaks in mid-December. But if you follow their paths back far enough, they all appear to diverge from a point in the constellation Gemini.

The International Meteor Organization (IMO) predicts that the Geminids should reach an impressive zenithal hourly rate of 120 this year. (ZHR is how many meteors you’d see see per hour in a very dark sky if the radiant were at the zenith. This year the peak should be centered on roughly 18h Universal Time on December 14. Unfortunately, that’s 1 p.m. EST and 10 a.m. PST. So in North America the shower’s performance is likely to be similar on the nights of December 13-14 and 14-15.

This week’s sky at a glance

As the IMO notes, “Near-peak Geminid rates persist for almost a day, so much of the world has a chance to enjoy something of the shower’s best.” In addition, “mass-sorting within the stream means fainter telescopic meteors should be most abundant almost a day ahead of the visual maximum,” and the meteors after maximum are typically brighter than average.

The moon will be a waxing crescent a few days old, no trouble at all.

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NASA Confirms 60 feet Asteroid is on Course for a Close Encounter with Earth

All Sky Fireball Network

Every night, a network of NASA all-sky cameras scans the skies above the United States for meteoritic fireballs. Automated software maintained by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office calculates their orbits, velocity, penetration depth in Earth’s atmosphere and many other characteristics. Daily results are presented here on Spaceweather.com.

On Dec. 13, 2015, the network reported 29 fireballs.
(15 Geminids, 10 sporadics, 2 December Monocerotids, 1 Quadrantid, 1 alpha Canis Majorid)

In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits intersect at a single point–Earth. The orbits are color-coded by velocity, from slow (red) to fast (blue). [Larger image] [movies]

Near Earth Asteroids

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.

On December 13, 2015 there were potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:

Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Size
2015 XU169
Dec 10
9.5 LD
16 m
1998 WT24
Dec 11
10.9 LD
1.1 km
2015 XA169
Dec 12
7.4 LD
15 m
2015 XR169
Dec 13
1.3 LD
8 m
2015 XX128
Dec 14
2.4 LD
25 m
2015 XX169
Dec 14
8.4 LD
14 m
2015 XN55
Dec 15
2.5 LD
15 m
2015 XY261
Dec 15
0.8 LD
16 m
2015 XL261
Dec 17
9.7 LD
42 m
2015 XE1
Dec 19
13.2 LD
29 m
2015 XN261
Dec 23
2.6 LD
31 m
2011 YD29
Dec 24
9.7 LD
24 m
2003 SD220
Dec 24
28.4 LD
1.8 km
2008 CM
Dec 29
22.8 LD
1.5 km
2004 MQ1
Jan 2
55.4 LD
1.1 km
1999 JV6
Jan 6
12.6 LD
410 m
1685 Toro
Jan 22
60.9 LD
1.7 km
2001 XR1
Jan 23
74.4 LD
1.5 km
2015 VC2
Jan 28
5.8 LD
15 m

Notes: LD means “Lunar Distance.” 1 LD = 384,401 km, the distance between Earth and the Moon. 1 LD also equals 0.00256 AU. MAG is the visual magnitude of the asteroid on the date of closest approach.

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Comet fragments best explanation of mysterious dimming star

Date:
November 25, 2015
Source:
Iowa State University
Summary:
Astronomers have responded to the buzz about a mysterious dimming star by studying data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. They conclude the dimming was probably caused by a family of comets passing in front of the star.

This illustration shows a star behind a shattered comet. Observations of the star KIC 8462852 by NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes suggest that its unusual light signals are likely from dusty comet fragments, which blocked the light of the star as they passed in front of it in 2011 and 2013. The comets are thought to be traveling around the star in a very long, eccentric orbit.
Credit: Illustration by NASA/JPL-Caltech

Was it a catastrophic collision in the star’s asteroid belt? A giant impact that disrupted a nearby planet? A dusty cloud of rock and debris? A family of comets breaking apart? Or was it alien megastructures built to harvest the star’s energy?

Just what caused the mysterious dimming of star KIC 8462852?

Massimo Marengo, an Iowa State University associate professor of physics and astronomy, wondered when he saw all the buzz about the mysterious star found by citizen scientists on the Planet Hunters website.

Those citizen scientists were highlighting measurements of star brightness recorded by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. Tiny dips in a star’s brightness can indicate a planet is passing in front of the star. That’s how Kepler astronomers — and citizen scientists using the internet to help analyze the light curves of stars — are looking for planets.

But this star had deep dips in brightness — up to 22 percent. The star’s brightness also changed irregularly, sometimes for days and even months at a time. A search of the 150,000-plus stars in Kepler’s database found nothing like this.

So Marengo and two other astronomers decided to take a close look at the star using data taken with the Infrared Array Camera of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. They report their findings in a paper recently published online by The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Their conclusion?

“The scenario in which the dimming in the KIC 8462852 light curve were caused by the destruction of a family of comets remains the preferred explanation …,” wrote the three — Marengo; Alan Hulsebus, an Iowa State doctoral student; and Sarah Willis, a former Iowa State graduate student now with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory.

Questions about the star were launched last month when a research team led by Tabetha Boyajian of Yale University reported on the star in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The astronomers reported how citizen scientists tagged the star’s deep and irregular dips in brightness as “bizarre” and “interesting.”

Boyajian and the other researchers looked at the data and investigated several possible causes. They wrote the “most promising theory” was a barrage of crumbling comets passing in front of the star.

In a subsequent paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal, Jason Wright and colleagues at Penn State University speculated about other causes, including alien megastructures built to harvest energy while orbiting the star.

When the Iowa State astronomers studied the star with Spitzer infrared data from January 2015 — two years after the Kepler measurements — Marengo said they didn’t see much. If there had been some kind of catastrophe near the star, he said there would be a lot of dust and debris. And that would show up as extra infrared emissions.

Marengo said the study looked at two different infrared wavelengths: the shorter was consistent with a typical star and the longer showed some infrared emissions, but not enough to reach a detection threshold. The astronomers concluded there were no excess infrared emissions and therefore no sign of an asteroid belt collision, a giant impact on a planet or a dusty cloud of rock and debris.

So Marengo and his colleagues say the destruction of a family of comets near the star is the most likely explanation for the mysterious dimming. The comet fragments coming in rapidly at a steep, elliptical orbit could create a big debris cloud that could dim the star. Then the cloud would move off, restoring the star’s brightness and leaving no trace of excess infrared light.

And the alien megastructure theory?

“We didn’t look for that,” Marengo said. “We can’t really say it is, or is not. But what the star is doing is very strange. It’s interesting when you have phenomena like that — typically it means there’s some new physical explanation or a new concept to be discovered.”


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Iowa State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Massimo Marengo, Alan Hulsebus, Sarah Willis. KIC 8462852: THE INFRARED FLUX. The Astrophysical Journal, 2015; 814 (1): L15 DOI: 10.1088/2041-8205/814/1/L15

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Mars to get planetary ring set to rival Saturn, with moon Phobos set to break up from tidal stress

Updated Mon at 2:50pm

Mars is destined to get a spectacular new planetary ring system to rival that of Saturn, but don’t hold your breath because it will not be for another 30 million years or so, according to scientists.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, are based on a new study to determine the fate destined to befall the diminutive Martian moon Phobos.

Over time Phobos is creeping inwards towards Mars at a couple of centimetres per year.

Dr Benjamin Black

“We found that Phobos is too weak to withstand tidal stresses from Mars and we expect it to break apart in a few tens of millions of years and form a ring around Mars,” the study’s lead author Dr Benjamin Black of the University of California said.

Only the giant planets of the outer solar system have rings at the moment.

Phobos — the larger of the two moons circling Mars — orbits just 6,000 kilometres above the surface of the red planet, closer than any other moon in the solar system.

“Over time Phobos is creeping inwards towards Mars at a couple of centimetres per year,” Dr Black said.

“We wanted to figure out whether Phobos crashes into Mars or breaks apart to form a ring, so we needed to know how strong it was — is it going to be able to stand the increasing tidal stresses that are going to be pulling this little moon apart, or will it eventually succumb to these forces?”

Dr Black and co-author Tushar Mittal found that Phobos will be pulled apart by the red planet’s gravitational tidal forces in about 20 to 40 million years’ time.

“We concluded that Phobos would break apart between 2.4 and about 1.1 Mars radii, somewhere between 8,500 kilometres down to around 4,000 kilometres or so,” Dr Black said.

 

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Discovery News

This Massive Exoplanet Is Being Born Right Now

//

 

The baby planet circles a very young, sun-like star located in a giant cloud of molecular gas 430 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.

PHOTOS: The Most Horrific Alien Planets In Our Galaxy

Astronomers had previously noted a hefty gap in the disk of gas and dust surrounding the star, known as LkCa 15. They suspected the gravitational pull of an evolving planet had cleared out an orbital zone, similar to how some moons circling Saturn create gaps in its rings.

Now, a new series of observations adds key details of the planet-in-the-making, showing for the first time how it is feeding on hydrogen gas.

“This discovery has far-reaching implications for our understanding of the planet-forming process and of the properties of young planets,” Princeton University astrophysicist Zhaohuan Zhu wrote in a commentary in this week’s Nature.

 

 

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For the first time, astronomers have directly observed a planet in the making.

Play Video
Earth is in what’s called the habitable zone. It’s far enough from the sun that it doesn’t get fried, and close enough that it gets the best of its warmth. We like to think we’re special for this, but it turns out we might be pretty run of the mill.

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All Sky Fireball Network

by Dr. Tony Phillips.

Every night, a network of NASA all-sky cameras scans the skies above the United States for meteoritic fireballs. Automated software maintained by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office calculates their orbits, velocity, penetration depth in Earth’s atmosphere and many other characteristics. Daily results are presented here on Spaceweather.com.

On Nov. 17, 2015, the network reported 38 fireballs.
(23 sporadics, 9 Northern Taurids, 3 Leonids, 2 November I Draconids, 1 omicron Eridanid)

In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits intersect at a single point–Earth. The orbits are color-coded by velocity, from slow (red) to fast (blue). [Larger image] [movies]

 

Near Earth Asteroids

 

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.

On November 18, 2015 there were 1634 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:

Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Size
2015 VR64
Nov 12
3 LD
14 m
2015 VV105
Nov 13
9 LD
10 m
2015 VU65
Nov 14
5.2 LD
23 m
2015 VY105
Nov 15
0.09 LD
7 m
2015 VN105
Nov 16
5.5 LD
13 m
2015 VD105
Nov 16
7.2 LD
52 m
2015 VC106
Nov 18
7 LD
24 m
2005 UL5
Nov 20
5.9 LD
390 m
2015 VE66
Nov 21
7.5 LD
64 m
2015 VO142
Nov 24
1 LD
7 m
2015 VH2
Nov 24
12.9 LD
14 m
2003 EB50
Nov 29
48.8 LD
2.2 km
2007 BG29
Dec 1
54.1 LD
1.1 km
2015 VZ145
Dec 8
9.2 LD
81 m
1998 WT24
Dec 11
10.9 LD
1.1 km
2011 YD29
Dec 24
9.7 LD
24 m
2003 SD220
Dec 24
28.4 LD
1.8 km
2008 CM
Dec 29
22.8 LD
1.5 km
2004 MQ1
Jan 2
55.4 LD
1.1 km
1999 JV6
Jan 6
12.6 LD
410 m

Notes: LD means “Lunar Distance.” 1 LD = 384,401 km, the distance between Earth and the Moon. 1 LD also equals 0.00256 AU. MAG is the visual magnitude of the asteroid on the date of closest approach.

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Science News

News

 

By
5:54pm, November 9, 2015

OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD LANDSCAPE The latest data from the New Horizons mission has helped create topographical maps of Pluto (blue shows lower elevations, brown, higher elevations) that have revealed surprises such as these two possible ice volcanoes, the first of their kind in the outer solar system.

 

OXON HILL, Md. — At this point, the only thing unsurprising about Pluto is that it continues to offer up surprises.

 

A wide variety of landscapes, ongoing surface transformations and a family of wildly spinning moons are among the riddles reported by the New Horizons mission team November 9 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

 

“Pluto is like a graduate course in planetary science,” mission leader Alan Stern said at a news briefing. “It’s going to take the larger planetary science community many years to digest all this.”

 

The New Horizons spacecraft, which buzzed the dwarf planet on July 14, has so far sent back only about 20 percent of the data it acquired from the Pluto system. And every new nugget continues a story that’s pretty familiar by now: Pluto is a weird place.

 

Terrains both new and old sit side-by-side on Pluto’s surface. Some heavily cratered regions are roughly 4 billion years old, about as old as Pluto itself. Others, like the now famous heart, appear to have been laid down within the last 10 million years, judging by the total lack of craters.

 

 

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ALERT: WTF Space Object Fall to Earth on Friday the 13th

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