Asteroids and Comets

How Comet Dust Has Allowed Us To Trace The History Of The Solar System

How Comet Dust Has Allowed Us To Trace The History Of The Solar System

Donia Baklouti, Université Paris Sud – Université Paris-Saclay; Anaïs Bardyn, Carnegie Science, and Hervé Cottin, Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC)

We are not used to considering dust as a valuable material – unless it comes from space. And more precisely, from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. An analysis of its dust has provided valuable information about this celestial object, and, more generally, on the history of the Solar System.

Using the COSIMA instrument aboard the European space probe Rosetta, a scientific team scrutinised the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P) in great detail from August 2014 to September 2016. They were interested in the dust particles ejected from the comet’s nucleus and captured by the spacecraft, and COSIMA made it possible to study their composition. The results of their research were published in December 2017 by the Royal Astronomical Society.

The study indicates that, on average, half of the mass of each dust particle consists of carbonaceous material with a mainly macromolecular organic structure; the other half being mostly composed of non-hydrated silicate minerals. How is this result important or interesting? What does it imply? Was it expected by scientists or is it a total break pre-existing theories?

Thanks to Rosetta and its instruments, we have been able to get a better idea of what 67P is composed. This is particularly true for the gases in its atmosphere, thanks to the ROSINA instrument. During the comet’s journey around the Sun, it continuously releases gases and dust that form a faint halo. This phenomenon is explained by the sublimation of ices that are embedded within the nucleus of the comet – they directly change from the solid to the gaseous state. As the gas escapes into the comet’s atmosphere, it bring with it small dust particles. ROSINA has characterised and quantified the gases: it’s made of water vapour, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, molecular oxygen and a multitude of small organic molecules mainly made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen atoms.

Other instruments, such as on-board cameras and the VIRTIS imaging spectrometer, studied the surface of 67P. Its structures are complex: cliffs, faults, landslides, pits and more. But above all, the comet surface is very dark and has little ice. The fact that it is so dark is possibly due to a high organic carbon content. Given that the ices and gases represent only a small fraction of the total cometary matter, the researchers rely on, among other things, the analysis of the dust grains released by the comet to learn more about the makeup of the comet’s nucleus. This dust is representative of the comet’s non-volatile composition, and the study of the dust’s chemical characteristics will reflect those of the comet’s nucleus.

35,000 particles collected

The COSIMA instrument is a kind of physico-chemical mini-laboratory, whose function was to collect dust particles released by the comet 67P, image them and then measure their chemical characteristics using a surface analysis method called “time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry” (TOF-SIMS). During the two years spent orbiting the comet, data collection was more successful than dared hoped for by the researchers and engineers who designed the instrument about 20 years ago. Indeed, COSIMA has collected more than 35,000 particles that are up to 1 millimetre in diameter. We had expected many fewer and infinitely smaller dust grains.

On the left, the surface of the cometary nucleus seen by the Rosetta probe. Condensed ice beneath the surface sublimes from the depths of the comet when it is warmed up as the comet approaches the Sun. The escaping gas entrains small dust particles that can be collected and analysed by the instruments of the Rosetta probe. On the right, a collecting target (1 cm x 1 cm) of the COSIMA instrument showing tiny fragments of the nucleus, up to a millimetre in size, that have impacted it. All these dust particles consist of an intimate mixture of 50/50 (by mass) of silicate minerals and organic material. Left, ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team; right, ESA/Rosetta/MPS for COSIMA Team., CC BY




 

The analysis and scientific interpretation of the mass spectrometric measurements made on a fraction of the particles collected (about 250) was long and challenging. The ultra-porosity of the dust, collected almost intact after ejection from the comet’s surface, has few analogues in our laboratories and the mastery of the TOF-SIMS technique, already complicated in the laboratory, had proved to be almost heroic when conducted remotely in space.

From these measurements, it was possible to deduce the dust particles’ main constituent elements (oxygen, carbon, silicon, iron, magnesium, sodium, nitrogen, aluminium, calcium…), as well as some information on the chemical nature of some components. From these data, the team showed that each dust particle (size ranging from ~0.05 to 1 mm in diameter) contained, on average, about 50% by mass of organic carbonaceous material. This material was mainly macromolecular, meaning that it was made of large structures put together in a totally disordered and complex fashion; the other half of the mass is mainly composed of non-hydrated silicates minerals.

Left: the average elemental composition of the dust particles of comet 67P. Right: the average mass distribution of minerals and organic material in the dust. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for COSIMA Team.




 

According to the measurements, this dust composition is independent of the particle collection date. In other words, on average, there is no difference in composition between the dust ejected by the comet before, during or after its perihelion, which is when, in August 2015, 67P made its closest approach to the Sun and where its activity was the most intense. The composition of cometary dust is also not dependent on their size or morphology – “fluffy aggregates” or more “compact grains”. The analysed particles are small fragments of the nucleus, coming from its surface as well as pits that sink into the depths of the comet. Therefore, the average composition determined by COSIMA most likely reflects the overall volatile-free composition of 67P’s nucleus. Most of the cometary matter is thus formed by this intimate mixture of 50-50 by weight of minerals and solid carbonaceous material.

A primitive material

These results, as well as those obtained 30 years ago during the flyby of comet Halley by the Giotto and Vega probes, prove that comets are among the most carbon-rich Solar System objects. Experts suspected this, but this is finally a direct experimental proof. The high value of the abundance ratio between carbon and silicon measured by COSIMA is very close to the abundance ratio of these elements measured in the Sun’s photosphere. Moreover, the silicates contained in 67P dust do not show any notable signs of alteration by liquid water. These two observations are an important proof of the primitive character of this cometary substance. It means that this material has hardly been modified since the comet’s formation, unlike most other objects in the Solar System. Studying it takes us back to the very beginning of the Solar System, nearly 4.5 billion years ago.

The COSIMA measurements, combined with the observations of the other Rosetta instruments, indicate that most of the cometary carbonaceous material is not found in ices and gases, but in dust, in this non-volatile macromolecular form. This result is in line with laboratory analyses of other extra-terrestrial materials that have been collected on Earth – meteorites, micrometeorites and interplanetary dust particles. With these, however, the original object from which these materials originated is rarely known. And above all, heating during the atmospheric entry alters and modifies, at least in part, their carbonaceous components.

The ConversationCOSIMA’s in situ measurements and its collection of dust at low speeds (a few metres per second, the pace of someone jogging) have made it possible to totally preserve the chemical information. Thus, it is possible to say today that if comets like 67P played a role in the appearance of life on Earth, especially by bringing carbon-rich material, it would have been this complex macromolecular component that dominated what was delivered.

Donia Baklouti, Astrochimiste, Maître de Conférences à l’Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS), Université Paris Sud – Université Paris-Saclay; Anaïs Bardyn, Astrochimiste, post-doctorante au Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM), Carnegie Science, and Hervé Cottin, Astrochimiste, Professeur au Laboratoire Interuniversitaire des Systèmes Atmosphériques (LISA), Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Oumuamua

Mysterious Alien Cigar ‘Asteroid’ Is Actually An Interstellar Piece Of Ice (Not A Space Ship)

The fundamental job of astrophysicists and astronauts is to explore the universe, and find what is out there. This year, the universe explored us.

On October 19, the Pan-STARRS 1 survey telescope in Hawaii captured a faint streak of light during its nightly search for asteroids and comets. Astronomer Rob Weryk realised it had a trajectory unlike anything seen before, and follow-up data taken over the next few nights confirmed it had come from outside our solar system. Humanity had identified its first alien visitor from another star.

What exactly is this interstellar object, which has been named ‘Oumuamua from the Hawaiian for “the first messenger from afar reaching out to us”? This is a difficult question to answer because it was not clear how ‘Oumuamua compares to other bodies that belong to our solar system. Its unusual elongated shape has even prompted some to question whether it might have been created artificially by an alien civilisation.

But my colleagues and I have now discovered that while it appears to be an unusually long rocky asteroid it may actually be an icy body covered in a protective crust of organic chemicals.

We were already pretty certain ‘Oumuamua was not artificial. Radio telescopes have been used to listen for signals from ‘Oumuamua but not heard anything. Its path through space also suggests that it is only moving because of gravity. So all initial lines of inquiry pointed to it being a natural object.

However, there was still a puzzle. The most likely visitor to our solar system would be a giant lump of ice. As it approached the sun, such an icy body should start to melt and release a tail of gas behind it . Yet, despite coming within 23m miles of our sun, ‘Oumuamua showed no sign of this kind of outgassing. Why, instead, did it look like an asteroid?

Our team reacted quickly to the discovery by getting time to use the Very Large Telescope in Chile and the William Herschel Telescope in La Palma within 48 hours. We used these facilities to measure how ‘Oumuamua reflects sunlight by looking at the wavelength of the returned light. This powerful technique can reveal the composition of an object and whether it has rocky minerals of ices on its surface.

‘Oumuamua as it appeared using the William Herschel Telescope on the night of October 29.
Queen’s University Belfast/William Herschel Telescope

Our data revealed its surface was red in visible light but appeared more neutral or grey in infra-red light. Previous laboratory experiments have shown this is the kind of reading you’d expect from a surface made of comet ices and dust that had been exposed to interstellar space for millions or billions of years. High-energy particles called cosmic rays dry out the surface by removing the ices. These particles also drive chemical reactions in the remaining material to form a crust of chemically organic (carbon-based) compounds.

So although ‘Oumuamua appeared as an asteroid-like point of light in our telescopes, it may be icy in its interior. And its insulating red rock-like surface could be the consequence of its lonely journey between the stars. Indeed, another study using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii showed its colour is similar to some “trans-Neptunian objects” orbiting in the outskirts of our solar system, whose surfaces may have been similarly transformed.

Where did it come from?

The other big question is where did ‘Oumuamua come from? One possibility is that it emerged from a planet-building process. Planets are built from smaller rocky asteroids and icy comets, but this is a messy business. Many trillions of objects would have been thrown into interstellar space as our planets formed and settled down into their current orbits. Additionally, comets have been lost from the Oort Cloud surrounding our solar system, pulled away by passing stars and the tides from the Milky Way galaxy in which we live.

If all stars are as wasteful as our sun in building solar systems, there should be large numbers of interstellar objects out there in our galaxy. But we would only see them if they get close enough to the sun and Earth to be detected with our current generation of telescopes. Earlier this year I was part of a study that showed there could be 1015 (1,000 trillion) such objects per cubic light year.

Several astronomers have found that ‘Oumuamua cannot be tracked back to any known star, but it approached from the direction that the sun is moving towards. This is the most probable direction any interstellar object will come from, like clouds of insects hitting a car windscreen as you drive through them.

The Conversation‘Oumuamua has already passed the orbit of Mars and is travelling outward above the asteroid belt. This winter, if you can find the Great Square of Pegasus in the night sky, you can wave farewell to our first interstellar visitor. But combining previous studies with the discovery of ‘Oumuamua suggests there should be a similar object somewhere within the orbit of Mars at any time, not yet seen. The universe is closer than we thought.

Alan Fitzsimmons, Professor of Astrophysics, Queen’s University Belfast

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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An Asteroid From Another Planetary System Just Shot Past Earth

A Fleeting Visit: An Asteroid From Another Planetary System Just Shot Past Earth

Jonti Horner, University of Southern Queensland

The discovery of an unusual small object in the Solar system last month caught the imagination of the global astronomical community. Scientists around the world were asking “what is it?” and “where did it come from?”

Within days, they realised this tiny body was moving very quickly, and might not be bound to our Solar System. Astronomers swung telescopes towards the faint object, and soon confirmed it as the first interstellar object ever observed passing through the Solar system.

So will there be more of these celestial vagabonds? To answer that question, we must first take a close look at our own Solar system.

Comets and asteroids – leftovers of creation

The Solar system includes debris left behind from its formation. The bulk of that material is trapped in regions where objects remain relatively unperturbed on timescales of billions of years.

Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter lurk millions of asteroids, the relics of planet formation. Beyond the orbit of Neptune are the trans-Neptunian objects – millions of icy bodies, held in cold storage. Finally, stretching halfway to the nearest star, is the Oort cloud, thought to contain more than ten trillion cometary nuclei.

The regions of our Solar system (not to scale). Shutterstock/hydra viridis

Most of these objects will remain in these regions forevermore. But over time a small fraction will be shaken loose, injected to orbits that are far less stable.

They then live brief, chaotic lives. Flung around the Solar system as a result of the gravitational influence of the planets, they can end up on orbits that bring them close to Earth and the Sun.

Some will fall apart, while others will crash into one of the planets. The majority will eventually leave the Solar system, never to return. Such ejections are far from a new phenomenon as the Solar system has been shedding debris since it formed.

In 1994, fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter, leaving scars the size of the Earth. Hubble Space Telescope Comet Team and NASA

The Solar system is not unique

Over the past 20 years, we have learned that the majority of stars are accompanied by planets and their attendant debris. Observing stars at infrared wavelengths, we have learned that many are also accompanied by far greater quantities of debris than we see in the Solar system.

We therefore move in a galaxy full of stars that are shedding debris to the depths of space. The void between the stars is far from empty.

With so much material floating freely in space, it was always likely that some of that debris would swing close enough to the Sun for us to detect it – which brings us back to our newly discovered object.

Our first interstellar vagabond

When the new object was first detected, it was apparent that it was moving on a highly elongated orbit. For that reason, scientists assumed it was a long-period comet, and named it C/2017 U1 Pan-STARRS.

As more observations were made, the only way that scientists could fit the object’s orbit to the data was if it was moving on a hyperbolic orbit – in other words, if it was not gravitationally bound to the Solar system.

Below you can see an animation showing the orbit of the interstellar asteroid A/2017 U1.

Over the days that followed the object’s discovery, detailed observations revealed no evidence of any cometary activity. Long exposures using the world’s largest telescopes showed nothing more than a fast moving speck of light.

Rather than a comet, the object seems asteroidal, which suggests it formed relatively close to its parent star. As a result, it was renamed A/2017 U1 – the first time in history that an object has been reclassified as being solely an asteroid rather than a comet.

But where did it come from?

Now we have a better handle on how A/2017 U1 is moving, people have begun to speculate on its origin.

Tracking its orbit back in time is no easy task. The further back we look, the less precisely we can say exactly where the object was.

What we can say is that A/2017 U1 approached the Solar system from roughly the direction of the bright northern star Vega. We know the inbound direction to about one-fifth of a degree, and the path lies around five degrees from that star in the northern sky.

Unfortunately, we can’t go from this to tying A/2017 U1’s origin to any given star. To do that we would need to know the motions of every single star with exquisite precision, as well as how they affect one another (and our object).

But what we can say is that the asteroid originates from a star within our own galaxy. Were it an intergalactic guest, it would be travelling much faster.

The future

What do we learn from A/2017 U1’s fleeting visit? The most important result is the confirmation of a long held expectation – that we would eventually discover comets and asteroids from distant stars sleeting through our Solar system.

The path of A/2017 U1 (dashed line) as it crossed the plane of the planets in our Solar system and then turned and headed back out. Brooks Bays/SOEST Publication Services/UH Institute for Astronomy

In coming years, new surveys will vastly increase our chances of finding further visitors. Eventually, such discoveries will be commonplace, and we will learn how many objects like A/2017 U1 are scattered through the galaxy. This will provide a wealth of information on how planetary systems form and evolve.

If we detect such objects with enough warning, more detailed observations could examine their chemical and isotopic compositions, allowing us to sample the makeup of planetary systems far from our own. The possibilities are endless, and hugely exciting!

But what of A/2017 U1’s fate? Its days near the Sun are over, and it is rapidly heading back to the cold depths of interstellar space.

The ConversationIn millions or billions of years, it might swing past another star, and visit alien worlds – but most likely it will continue to drift forevermore, cold and dark, through the spaces between the stars.

Jonti Horner, Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Massive Asteroid ‘Florence’ To Pass By Earth On September 1

‘Florence’ will pass the Earth at a distance of 7 million kilometers ( or 4.4 million miles). Florence is 4.4-kilometer (2.7-miles) Florence is among the largest near-Earth asteroids that are several miles in size.

“Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began.” says Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). “While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller,”

JPL/Caltech





 


Scientists will be given an opportunity to study the asteroid based on it’s proximity. Using ground based radar systems such as NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico researchers will provide details of the asteroid up to 30 feet in precision.

We use radar to observe asteroids daily. Deep space radar helps us study the size, shape, and rotation of objects in space by sending signals into space and bouncing them off the target object. This is nearly identical to how submarines and aircraft use radar.

Florence was initially discovered in 1981 and was named in honor of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing. This pass in 2017 will be the closest pass the asteroid has had since 1890, and it’s closest until after 2500. Florence will be visible to telescopes at night during the end of August and beginning of September.

Asteroid Florence, a large near-Earth asteroid, will pass safely by Earth on Sept. 1, 2017, at a distance of about 4.4 million miles.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Asteroid Just Skims Earth Atmosphere, We Spotted It Three Days Later

Asteroid Nearly Misses Earth, We Only Spotted It Three Days Later

We can never be too careful.

On July 20th Asteroid 2017 001 w came within 123,031 kilometers (or 76,448 miles) from Earth. The asteroid was approximately 37 to 77 meters (121 to 252 feet) across and was travelling at 6.4 miles per second at the time it passed our orbit.

And we didn’t spot it until July 23rd.

Thanks to the ATLAS-MLO telescope in Hawaii, data was uncovered that shows the near-miss.





 


If you compare this to other asteroids that have impacted our atmosphere, such as the the Chelyabinsk incident that exploded over russia in 2013, we see the significance of 2017 001 w. The meteor at Chelyabinsk was approximately 20 meters long (or 65 feet) and caused damage that included injuries to civilians and shattered glass across the region.

Below you can find a diagram that shows all near-earth asteroids larger than 1 kilometer (or 0.6 miles), these are the asteroids that could cause an extinction level event.

Asteroid Just Skims Earth's Atmosphere, We Spotted It Three Days Later

NASA/JPL

Thankfully Asteroid 2017 001 w made a safe pass, but it remains a present reminder that our asteroid detection technology can never be too advanced.

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NASA's Asteroid Defence Mission Moves Into Design Phase

NASA’s Asteroid Defence Mission Moves Into Design Phase

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is no longer a concept. It’s now moving into a design phase, which could make it the first ever demonstration of asteroid deflection.

“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique — striking the asteroid to shift its orbit — to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.”

An asteroid known as Didymos will be DART’s first target. It makes a distant approach to Earth in October 2022, and then again in 2024. Didymos is greek for “twin”, aptly named as the asteroid is a binary system of two bodies: Didymos A, about one-half mile (780 meters) in size, and a smaller asteroid orbiting it called Didymos B, about 530 feet (160 meters). DART’s target will be the smaller of the two asteroids.



DART will achieve kinetic impact with Didymos at a speed of approximately 6 km/s, guided by it’s onboard cameras. The hope is that, “The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, enough to be measured using telescopes on Earth.”

DART is powered by theNASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C), it’s a highly advanced system that will decrease the cost of the launch vehicle for leaving Earth. It was previously used on the Dawn spacecraft propulsion system and was developed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

aida-mission-concept

Schematic of the AIDA mission concept shows ESA’s AIM spacecraft in orbit about the binary asteroid (65803) Didymos. AIM would arrive several months before NASA’s DART would impact Didymos’ smaller companion. Post-impact observations from both the AIM spacecraft and Earth-based planetary radar would, in turn, measure the change in the moonlet’s orbit about the parent body.

“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact,” said Andy Cheng of The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, the DART investigation co-lead. “Since we don’t know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid. With DART, we can show how to protect Earth from an asteroid strike with a kinetic impactor by knocking the hazardous object into a different flight path that would not threaten the planet.”

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NASA Simulates Asteroid Impacts To Help Identify Possible Life-Threatening Events

When an asteroid struck the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013, the blast from the asteroid’s shock wave broke windows and damaged buildings as far away as 58 miles (93 kilometers), injuring more than 1,200 people.

In support of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, researchers are creating 3-D models and using one of NASA’s most powerful supercomputers to produce simulations of hypothetical asteroid impact scenarios. Their results help first responders and other agencies to identify and make better informed decisions for how best to defend against life-threatening asteroid events.

High-fidelity simulations of potential asteroids covering a wide range of sizes were run on the Pleiades supercomputer using NASA’s Cart3D and Lawrence Livermore National Lab’s ALE3D modeling software by experts on the Asteroid Threat Assessment Project at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility at Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

The NASA team was able to run large-scale simulations of the Chelyabinsk asteroid event on Pleiades to produce many impact scenarios quickly, because Cart3D is dozens of times faster than typical 3-D numerical modeling used for aerodynamic analysis. The detailed simulations allowed the team to model the fluid flow that occurs when asteroids melt and vaporize as they break up in the atmosphere.

NASA’s asteroid research is shared with scientists at universities, national labs, and government agencies who develop assessment and response plans to look at damage to infrastructure, warning times, evacuations, and other options for protecting lives and property.

Originally published at NASA

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Could Asteroids Bombard The Earth To Cause A Mass Extinction In Ten Million Years?

Sanna Alwmark, Lund University and Matthias Meier, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

Scientists have spent decades debating whether asteroids and comets hit the Earth at regular intervals. At the same time, a few studies have found evidence that the large extinction events on Earth – such as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 66m years ago – repeat themselves every 26m to 30m years. Given that there’s good evidence that an asteroid triggered the dinosaur extinction, it makes sense to ask whether showers of asteroids could be to blame for regular extinction events.

The question is extremely important – if we could prove that this is the case, then we might be able to predict and even prevent asteroids causing mass extinctions in the future. We have tried to find out the answer.

Today, there are approximately 190 impact craters from asteroids and comets on Earth. They range in size from only a few meters to more than 100km across. And they formed anywhere between a few years ago and more than two billion years ago. Only a few, like the famous “Meteor crater” in Arizona, are visible to the untrained eye, but scientists have learned to recognise impact craters even if they are covered by lakes, the ocean or thick layers of sediment.

Meteor crater, Arizona.
Kevin Walsh/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

But have these craters formed as a result of regular asteroid collisions? And if so, why? There have been many suggestions, but most prominently, some scientists have suggested that the sun has a companion star (called “Nemesis”) on a very wide orbit, which approaches the solar system every 26m to 30m years and thereby triggers showers of comets.

Nemesis would be a red/brown dwarf star – a faint type of star – orbiting the sun at a distance of about 1.5 light years. This is not an impossible idea, since the majority of stars actually belong to systems with more than one star. However, despite searching for it for decades, astronomers have failed to observe it, and think they can now exclude its existence.

Difficult dating

Yet, the idea of periodic impacts persists. There are other suggestions. One idea is based on the observation that the sun moves up and down slightly as it orbits the galaxy, crossing the galactic disk every 30m years or so. Some have suggested that this could somehow trigger comet showers.

But is there any evidence that asteroid impacts occur at regular intervals? Most research so far has failed to show this. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the case – it’s tricky getting the statistics right. There are a lot of variables involved: craters disappear as they age, and some are never found in the first place as they are on the ocean floor. Rocks from some periods are easier to find than from others. And determining the ages of the craters is difficult.

A recent study claimed to have found evidence of periodicity. However, the crater age data it used included many craters with poorly known, or even incorrect and outdated ages. The methods used to determine age – based on radioactive decay or looking at microscopic fossils with known ages – are continuously improved by scientists. Therefore, today, the age of an impact event can be improved significantly from an initial analysis made, say, ten or 20 years ago.

Another problem involves impacts that have near identical ages with exactly the same uncertainty in age: known as “clustered ages”. The age of an impact crater may be, for example, 65.5 ± 0.5m years while another is be 66.1 ± 0.5m years. In this case, both craters might have the same true age of 65.8m years. Such craters have in some instances been produced by impacts of asteroids accompanied by small moons, or by asteroids that broke up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Manicouagan crater in Canada seen from the International Space Station/
NASA/Chris Hadfield

The double impact craters they produce can make it look like they hit a time when there were lots of asteroid impacts, when actually the craters were formed in the same event. In some cases, clustered impact craters are spaced too far apart to be explained as double impacts. So how could we explain them? The occasional collision of asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter might trigger short-lived “showers” of asteroids impacting the Earth. Only a few of these showers are necessary to lead to the false impression of periodicity.




 

Fresh approach

In contrast to previous studies, we restricted our statistical analysis to 22 impact craters with very well defined ages from the past 260m years. In fact, these all have age uncertainties of less than 0.8%. We also accounted for impacts with clustered ages.

Our article, recently published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, shows that, to the best of our current knowledge, asteroid impacts do not happen at regular intervals – they seem to occur randomly.

Of course, we can’t be sure that there isn’t any periodicity. But the good news is that, as more impact craters are dated with robust ages, the statistical analysis we did can be repeated over and over again – if there is such a pattern, it should become visible at some point.

The ConversationThat means that there is presently no way to predict when a large asteroid collision may once again threaten life on Earth. But then when it comes to facing the apocalypse, maybe not knowing is not so bad after all …

Sanna Alwmark, Doctoral Candidate of Lithosphere and Biosphere Science, Lund University and Matthias Meier, Swiss National Science Foundation Ambzione Fellow in Geo- and Cosmochemistry, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Watch This Exploding Eta Aquarid Meteor Caught On Film

Watch This Exploding Eta Aquarid Meteor Caught On Film

Shot by Justin Ng at 4:16 am an exploding Eta Aquarid meteor was captured streaking across the Indonesian skies of Mount Bromo.

The video shows a striking red meteor exploding into a fireball in the upper atmosphere. The meteor than vaporizes and leaves a red trail for what was over 10 minutes (lasting only a few seconds in the video timelapse).




 

Mount Bromo is an active volcano 2,329 meters high.

Below you can find Justin’s original description of the event, as well as the initial tweet:

Just returned from a successful astrophotography tour to Mount Bromo that sees participants from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and USA captured a Eta Aquarid meteor at around 4.16am, which left behind a red smoke trail that lasted several minutes before sunrise. The Small Magellanic Cloud is also visible just above the horizon on the left.




 

The initial explosion

Watch This Exploding Eta Aquarid Meteor Caught On Film

The smoke trail lasted over 10 minutes


 




 

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Potentially Hazardous Asteroid To Pass By Earth This Month

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid To Pass By Earth This Month

According to NASA, asteroid 2014 JO25 will make a “potentially hazardous” pass around Earth later this month. The asteroid is roughly is 1.4 kilometer, or 0.8 miles, wide and will make it’s closest approach to Earth on April 19th.

Update from NASA: 2014 J25 is expected to pass safely by Earth on April 19th.

It’s expected to reach it’s nearest approach at 1.7 million kilometers from Earth, 4.6 lunar distances. It will be the largest asteroid to fly this close to our planet since 4179 Toutatis in September of 2004. It will also be the largest predicted asteroid until 2027:

The 2017 flyby is the closest by an asteroid at least this large since the encounter by 4179 Toutatis at four lunar distances in September 2004. The next known flyby by an object with a comparable or larger diameter will occur when 800-m-diameter asteroid 1999 AN10 approaches within one lunar distance in August 2027.




 

The “potentially hazardous” classification is “based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth.” Whereas an asteroid less than 500 feet across would not be hazardous, 2014 JO25 shatters that mark at 1.4 kilometers.

2014 JO25 was originally discovered in 2014 by astronomers at the Mount Lemmon Survey observatory.

NASA JPL’s Ron Baalke tweeted a GIF that shows just how close 2014 JO25 will come to our planet.




 

J. Masiero utilized observations from the NEOWISE spacecraft in 2014 to estimate a diameter of 0.65 km and an optical albedo of 0.25, indicating that 2014 JO25 is a relatively bright object. The spectral class, rotation period, and pole direction are unknown. This object will be very close to the Sun until April 19, after which it will be favorably positioned foroptical observations. We do not expect to know the rotation period before the radar observations because this object will be too faint and/or too close to the Sun.

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2015 BN509 An Asteroid That Could One Day Hit Earth

2015 BN509: An Asteroid That Could One Day Hit Earth

2015 BN509 was spotted flying through space by Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory. It was spotted zooming by our planet at 14 times the distance between Earth and the moon – a dangerously uncomfortable pass.

2015 BN509 is big. It’s 200 meters wide by 400 meters tall, bigger than the Empire State Building. NASA has deemed it “potentially hazardous” as it’s trajectory could lead to an impact with Earth.

The observatory spotted the comet, in a routine search for NEO’s. Arecibo was analyzing the unique shape of the asteroid, known as a contact binary. Contact binaries appear similar in shape to a peanut, in that they are formed by two round asteroids linked by a single point. They’re formed when two asteroids can not successfully orbit each other, and thus come smashing back together.

2015 WBN509 as recorded by Arecibo.

Arecibo will continue to monitor the asteroid to collect data on it’s trajectory.

In the future, NASA intends to fund the NEOCAM mission, a project that works on identifying NEO’s, in order to launch counter defensive measure for Earth’s protection.

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This Asteroid Looks Like Dungeons and Dragons Dice

Radar images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 were obtained on Feb. 6 and 7 with NASA’s 70-meter (230-foot) antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. They reveal an irregular, angular-appearing asteroid about 660 feet (200 meters) in size that rotates about once every three hours. The images have resolutions as fine as 12 feet (3.75 meters) per pixel.

“The radar images show relatively sharp corners, flat regions, concavities, and small bright spots that may be boulders,” said Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who leads the agency’s asteroid radar research program. “Asteroid 2017 BQ6 reminds me of the dice used when playing Dungeons and Dragons. It is certainly more angular than most near-Earth asteroids imaged by radar.”

This composite of 25 images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 was generated with radar data collected using NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California’s Mojave Desert. The images were gathered on Feb. 7, 2017, between 8:39 and 9:50 p.m. PST (11:39 p.m. EST and 12:50 a.m., Feb. 7), revealing an irregular, angular-appearing asteroid about 660 feet (200 meters) in size that rotates about once every three hours. The images have resolutions as fine as 12 feet (3.75 meters) per pixel. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR

Asteroid 2017 BQ6 safely passed Earth on Feb. 6 at 10:36 p.m. PST (1:36 a.m. EST, Feb. 7) at about 6.6 times the distance between Earth and the moon (about 1.6 million miles, or 2.5 million kilometers). It was discovered on Jan. 26 by the NASA-funded Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) Project, operated by MIT Lincoln Laboratory on the Air Force Space Command’s Space Surveillance Telescope at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

Radar has been used to observe hundreds of asteroids. When these small, natural remnants of the formation of the solar system pass relatively close to Earth, deep space radar is a powerful technique for studying their sizes, shapes, rotation, surface features, and roughness, and for more precise determination of their orbital path.

This composite of 11 images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 was generated with radar data collected using NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California’s Mojave Desert on Feb. 5, 2017, between 5:24 and 5:52 p.m. PST (8:24 to 8:52 p.m. EST / 1:24 to 1:52 UTC). The images have resolutions as fine as 12 feet (3.75 meters) per pixel. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR

Originally published at NASA

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Doomsday Asteroid Will Hit Earth February 16th, Claims Conspiracy Theorist

Reports from one Dr. Dyomin Damir Zakharovich would have us believe that 2016 W49 is on a devastating collision course with Earth that could trigger extinction and mega-tsunami.

Update from NASA (Feb 1): On Feb. 25, 2017 Comet 2016 WF9 will approach Earth’s orbit. At a distance of nearly 32 million miles (51 million kilometers) from Earth, this pass will not bring it particularly close. The trajectory of 2016 WF9 is well understood, and is not a threat to Earth.

We wrote about 2016 W49 earlier this month, it’s a comet that NASA believes will pass by our planet at a distance of 51 million kilometers, or 32 million miles. It was first spotted by NASA’s NEOWISE project on November 27th. And it should be close enough to be visible in the Northern Hemisphere during the first weeks of 2017. But according to one conspiracy theorist, a little too visible…

Dr. Dyomin Damir Zakharovich’s name has been popping up online in recent months in conspiracy circles, he claims “we are all in peril”. He thinks 2016 W49 is going to make impact with Earth on February 16th.

“The object they call WF9 left the Nibiru system in October when Nibiru began spinning counter clockwise around the sun. Since then, Nasa has known it will hit Earth. But they are only telling people now.”

According to NASA “The trajectory of 2016 WF9 is well understood, and the object is not a threat to Earth for the foreseeable future”.

An artist’s rendition of 2016 WF9 as it passes Jupiter’s orbit inbound toward the sun. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

What we do know about 2016 W49 is that it’s about 0.3 to 0.6 miles (0.5 to 1 kilometre) across and it’s very dark (only reflecting a small fraction of light from it’s surface). NASA believes that “2016 WF9 could have cometary origins”, according to Deputy Principal Investigator James ‘Gerbs’ Bauer at JPL. And that ‘Nibiru’ is more commonly referred to as Planet X, a controversial mystery planet that if exists, is believed to hurl matter into our inner solar system.

When 2016 W49 was first spotted, it was unclear if it was a comet or an asteroid. Distinctions between comets and asteroids are as follows: comets are icy with long tails, whereas asteroids are mainly comprised of rocks and metals. What’s interesting is that this object is neither; it’s similar to a comet in that it surface is dark and unreflective, yet it doesn’t have the dust and ice tail we usually see. The mystery is also caused a confusion as to it’s origin.

2016 WF9 could have cometary origins. This object illustrates that the boundary between asteroids and comets is a blurry one; perhaps over time this object has lost the majority of the volatiles that linger on or just under its surface.”

– Deputy Principal Investigator James Bauer at NASA JPL

Our money is on the NASA prediction, but with a conspired impact date of February 16th, we’ll all find out soon enough.

Below you can find a statement written on NASA’s website, 2016 W49 is expected to pass on February 25th at 51 million kilometers.

A screenshot of NASA’s website (Feb 1, 2017)

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An Asteroid Just Flew By Earth At Half The Distance Of The Moon, We Never Saw It Coming1

An Asteroid Just Flew By Earth At Half The Distance Of The Moon, We Nearly Missed It

A report for those who watch the skies; astronomers have just learned that an asteroid whizzed by Earth at 9.9 miles/second. The asteroid was 34 meters long.

Asteroid 2017 AG13, was only discovered on Saturday by the Catalina Sky Survey and it’s knowledge was limited to exposure in a short 48 hour window.

“This is moving very quickly, very nearby to us,” Eric Feldman, Slooh, said in a live broadcast of the flyby. “It actually crosses the orbits of two planets, Venus and Earth.”

via SLOOH

Comprised of porous rock, angling at 45-degrees 2017 AG3 would have had a similar effect to the asteroid that broke up over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. 2017 AG3 would not have impacted the Earth, rather it would have exploded as an air-burst releasing 700 kilotons of energy into the atmosphere – roughly 10 miles above the surface of the Earth.

According to the NASA Near Earth Object Program, there are an expected 38 “close approaches” in January alone.

The asteroid that broke up over Chelyabinsk, Russia.

 

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White House Releases Plan To Deal With Asteroid Impact

White House Releases Plan To Deal With Asteroid Impact

On December 30, 2016 the White House released its plan for Near-Earth Object Preparedness. The document details how we could stop an asteroid disaster from ever happening. Or, how to deal with the scenario should the Earth be hit by a large asteroid.

The report was published by a NASA organization known as Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth objects (DAMIEN). DAMIEN suggests that increasing our detection and tracking capabilities is one of our most important steps to preventing impacts here on Earth.

“Unlike other natural disasters and space weather events, NEO [near-Earth objects] impacts are predictable many years in advance and, most importantly, potentially preventable when a survey of the population is complete. Although currently a global leader in detecting and tracking NEOs, the United States will depend (in part) on international cooperation and coordination to help develop capabilities for characterization and future capabilities related to the development and implementation of deflection and disruption capabilities for NEOs.”

It’s believed it could take us up to eight years (or more) to prepare and mount a deflection or destruction mission, thus early detection is Earth’s best friend. Ideas to deflect the asteroid revolve around impactors to change trajectory. The Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) is planning to test a similar system in 2022.

A collection of the types of asteroids that may remain undetected in our solar system. Credit: NASA/JPL

The report goes into detail about responding to such an event, if an asteroid went undetected. Efforts would likely be similar to a hurricane or earthquake rescue mission with their own special protocols.

An asteroid is likely to make impact with Earth at some point in the future, we just don’t know when. It’s imperative we stay vigilant and detect any NEO we observe.

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A Mysterious Stellar Object Will Pass By Earth Next Month

A Mysterious Stellar Object Will Pass By Earth Next Month

It’s not a comet, it’s not an asteroid. No one is entirely sure what it is.

An object currently cruising through our solar system is set to pass by earth next month and make it’s closest approach on February 25th at a distance of 51 million kilometers, or 32 million miles. Known as 2016 WF9, the object was first spotted by NASA’s NEOWISE project on November 27th – and no one knows what it is.

It’s unclear if it’s a comet or an asteroid, or something entirely different. Distinctions between comets and asteroids are as follows: comets are icy with long tails, whereas asteroids are mainly comprised of rocks and metals. What’s interesting is that this object is neither; it’s similar to a comet in that it surface is dark and unreflective, yet it doesn’t have the dust and ice tail we usually see. The mystery is also causing a confusion as to it’s origin.

“2016 WF9 could have cometary origins. This object illustrates that the boundary between asteroids and comets is a blurry one; perhaps over time this object has lost the majority of the volatiles that linger on or just under its surface.”

– Deputy Principal Investigator James Bauer at NASA JPL

An artist’s rendition of 2016 WF9 as it passes Jupiter’s orbit inbound toward the sun. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The object will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere during the first weeks of 2017. Look towards the southeastern sky in the hours leading up to sunrise. If conditions are right, it’s possible the object may be visible with a set of binoculars.

We’re currently looking into where the object is located in the solar system. It could be possible this is a comet that has not gotten close enough to the sun – thus it has not started to melt away it’s core producing an icy tail. This is however unlikely, as all recorded comets visible from Earth have had a significant tail prior to their arrival near Earth’s orbit.

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Watch This Gorgeous Time-Lapse Video Of The Starry Night Sky

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower Will Peak Tuesday, Wednesday Night

A new year brings a new meteor shower; The Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to peak over Tuesday and Wednesday night.

Peak activity will begin on January 3 and 4 between midnight and dawn. If the conditions are optimal you may be able to see between 60 and 120 meteors every hour. Unfortunately, the shower will only be visible to those in the Northern Hemisphere, with North America getting the best best view (specifically the west coast).

Meteors will originate from the North and will be visible in all parts of the Sky. The meteors you see are all pieces of debris from asteroid 2003 EH1. Asteroid 2003 EH1 is believed to be a nucleus fragment from a comet that broke up over Asia during the 1940s.

Meteor showers are named after the constellation they originated from, thus the  Quadrantid meteors have come from the Quadrans Muralis constellation. A constellation that technically is no-longer an actual constellation based on internationally accepted definitions.

Slooh will be hosting a live stream of the event in case you aren’t able to catch the show. The broadcast will begin at 8:30 PM EST on Tuesday, January 3rd. Or, you can catch it here below:

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Here's What Would Happen If A Huge Asteroid Hit The Ocean

Here’s What Would Happen If A Huge Asteroid Hit The Ocean

Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory have used high performance computing to investigate how an asteroid’s kinetic energy could be transferred into the ocean and atmosphere.

Most simulations and movie scenarios focus on asteroids impacting land, however it’s far more likely that an asteroid would impact one of our oceans due to the quantity of water on the surface vs. that of land. Researchers created a computer model to visualize what would happen in this scenario. The video showing their research won the Best Scientific Visualization & Data Analytics Showcase award at Supercomputing 2016.

If an asteroid were to impact one of Earth’s oceans, it could inject billions of tons of water into the atmosphere. The risk for a catastrophic tsunami is smaller than previously thought, however this does depend on the angle and location of impact.

It was estimated if an asteroid made impact with an ocean within 20 kilometers of a populated coastline that the scenario could be grim; hurricane force shockwaves and tsunami like waves.

If the asteroid impacted off a coast line it would still be a devastating scenario according to this simulation. A 250 meter asteroid could vaporize and thrust 240 megatons of water into the stratosphere and significantly affect the world’s climate.

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Three Asteroids Will Pass By Earth Today

Three Asteroids Will Pass By Earth Today

NEOShield, an organization dedicated to impact threats on our planet, has spotted three asteroids that will pass by Earth today.

Asteroids 2006LH, 2010XN, and 2006XD2 are all going to pass by our planet today (Wednesday, December 21). The objects range in size; the first asteroid is 45 meters (148 feet) whereas the third is the largest at 260 meters (853 feet) in diameter. The larger asteroid is currently moving at 8.5 miles per second and the smaller at 5.8 miles per second.

Don’t fret, these asteroids are not going to impact Earth. They are classified as ‘near-misses’ in astronomical terms. The smaller asteroid will be passing earth at 14.5 times the Earth to Moon distance, and the larger asteroid (2006XD2) will pass at 18.9 times that distance.

There are currently around 15,000 near earth objects orbiting our planet within 0.12 billion miles from the sun. Thankfully for us we have agencies who monitor this type of activity.

If 2006XD2 were to impact Earth, it’s predicted to be 100,000 times less powerful than that of the Dinosaur killing asteroid from millions of years ago. It would not threaten life on our planet as we know it.

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Earth Overdue For Collision With 'Dinosaur-Killing' Asteroid, Nasa Scientist Warns

Earth Overdue For Collision With ‘Dinosaur-Killing’ Asteroid, Nasa Scientist Warns

Humans are not prepared for a surprise asteroid impact warned a Nasa scientist on Monday.

Speaking at the annual meeting of American Geophysical Union, Dr. Joseph Nuth claims one of the biggest problems is a lack of preparedness; “The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment.”

Asteroid and comet impacts are extremely rare for Earth and they happen sporadically across tens of millions of years, but Nuth warns of ‘dinosaur killers’ in his latest talk:

“But on the other hand they are the extinction-level events, things like dinosaur killers, they’re 50 to 60 million years apart, essentially. You could say, of course, we’re due, but it’s a random course at that point.”

Asteroids and comets are most commonly drawn towards our planet from the asteroid belt due the pull of Jupiter and Saturn’s orbits. Our most recent close encounter was in 1996 when a comet flew into Jupiter and again in 2014 when a comet passed “within cosmic spitting distance of Mars”. The discovery of the latter only occurred 22 months before it impacted, a frighteningly short window to plan and launch a deflection mission. “If you look at the schedule for high-reliability spacecraft and launching them, it takes five years to launch a spacecraft. We had 22 months of total warning.”

Nasa has mapped 90% of near-Earth objects larger than one kilometer, a significant mark as objects of this size could cause serious devastation on our planet. They’ve also mapped 1,748 “potentially hazardous asteroids” that could cause significant harm.

There are currently two leading theories on how we may deflect an asteroid, by using a nuclear warhead, or by using a massive kinetic impactor like a giant cannonball. While a nuclear explosion may be our de-facto reaction, it’s believed a cannonball mechanism could be more effective than a high powered explosion.

Nasa has been studying asteroids and comets with the National Nuclear Security Administration for over a decade. Just this October they performed a simulation of what may happen if a huge asteroid hit near Los Angeles. In which they estimated if a 330 foot asteroid hit California, the explosion would demolish cities and kill thousands.

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Here’s A Comet That Hit Earth 56 Million Years Ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Droplets of glass dug up in New Jersey and from the Atlantic seabed indicate a comet or some other extraterrestrial object may have smacked Earth 56 million years ago, roughly 10 million years after the asteroid impact that doomed the dinosaurs.

Scientists said on Thursday the collision may have triggered a particularly warm, ice-free period on Earth when important mammalian groups, including the primate lineage that led to humans, appeared for the first time.

The findings, published in the journal Science, marked the latest evidence of the profound influence that past impacts by celestial bodies have had on life on Earth.

The tiny spherical bits of dark glass, called microtektites, represent strong evidence of a collision with a comet or asteroid, the researchers said. They form when a space rock hits Earth’s surface and vaporizes the spot where it lands, ejecting into the air bits of molten rock that solidify into glass.

The microtektites were excavated from a geological layer marking the start of the Eocene Epoch about 56 million years ago from three sites in southern New Jersey (Millville, Wilson Lake and Medford) and an underwater site east of Florida.

Here's A Comet That May Have Hit Earth 56 Million Years Ago

A tiny sand-grain-size tektites, thought to be created when vaporized material from an impact solidified while flying through the air, is shown in this image released in New York, U.S., October 13, 2016.  Courtesy Megan Fung/Handout via REUTERS

That coincided with the beginning of a warming event, called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, associated with an accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide. It lasted more than 100,000 years and drove up global temperatures about 9-14 degrees Fahrenheit (5-8 degrees Celsius).

The impact of an asteroid about six miles wide (10 km) off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula 10 million years earlier killed off many marine and terrestrial creatures including the dinosaurs and enabled mammals to gain supremacy.

No such mass extinction was associated with the event 56 million years ago, although many single-celled ocean-bottom creatures disappeared. During the warming period, primates and two mammal groups — one that includes deer, antelope, sheep and goats and another that includes horses and rhinos — first appear in the fossil record.

The researchers said they have not found the location of an impact crater linked to the collision. They said geological evidence suggested the object was a comet.

“We can’t really say where it was, or how big, at this point,” said geochemist Morgan Schaller of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who led the study.

While the findings are not proof that the impact caused the warming period, they are “a rather dramatic finding in support of an impact trigger” for the climate changes, said planetary scientist Dennis Kent of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University.

By Will Dunham

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Rosetta Finds Key Building Blocks For Life In Comet

Rosetta Finds Key Building Blocks For Life In Comet

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Scientists for the first time have directly detected key organic compounds in a comet, bolstering the notion that these celestial objects delivered such chemical building blocks for life long ago to Earth and throughout the solar system.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft made several detections of the amino acid glycine, used by living organisms to make proteins, in the cloud of gas and dust surrounding Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, scientists said on Friday.

Glycine previously was indirectly detected in samples returned to Earth in 2006 from another comet, Wild 2. But there were contamination issues with the samples, which landed in the Utah desert, that complicated the scientific analysis.

“Having found glycine in more than one comet shows that neither Wild 2 nor 67P are exceptions,” said Rosetta scientist Kathrin Altwegg of the University of Bern in Switzerland, who led the research published in the journal Science Advances.

The discovery implies that glycine is a common ingredient in regions of the universe where stars and planets have formed, Altwegg said.

“Amino acids are everywhere, and life could possibly also start in many places in the universe,” Altwegg added.

Rosetta, the European Space Agency's cometary probe with NASA contributions, is seen in an undated artist's rendering. REUTERS/ESA/NASA/Handout

Rosetta, the European Space Agency’s cometary probe with NASA contributions, is seen in an undated artist’s rendering. REUTERS/ESA/NASA/Handout

Altwegg and colleagues also found phosphorus, a key element in all living organisms, and other organic molecules in dust surrounding comet 67P. It was the first time phosphorus was found around a comet.Scientists have long debated the circumstances around the origin of life on Earth billions of years ago, including the hypothesis that comets and asteroids carrying organic molecules crashed into the oceans on the Earth early in its history.”Meteorites and now comets prove that Earth has been seeded with many critical biomolecules over its entire history,” said University of Washington astronomer Donald Brownlee, who led NASA’s Stardust comet sample return mission. Scientists plan to use Rosetta to look for other complex organic compounds around the same comet.

“You need more than amino acids to form a living cell,” Altwegg said. “It’s the multitude of molecules which make up the ingredients for life.” Rosetta is due to end its two-year mission at 67P by flying very close to the comet and then crash-land onto its surface this September.

67P is in an elliptical orbit that loops around the sun between the orbits of the planets Jupiter and Earth. The comet is heading back out toward Jupiter after reaching its closest approach to the sun last August.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Jupiter Just Got Hit With An Asteroid And Here's The Video

Jupiter Just Got Hit With An Asteroid And Here’s The Video

Astronomer John McKeon captured video of something striking jupiter on March 17th. 

While recording the transit of Jupiter’s moons Io and Gannymede (via his 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and his ASI120mm camera) McKeon was fortunate enough to capture this cosmic event. It’s believed to be a comet or an asteroid pulled in by the immense gravity of the monster planet.

McKeon released this time-lapse video with the following description:

This is the time-lapse of processed images leading to the impact on Jupiter March 17. The original purpose of the imaging session was to get this time-lapse, with a happy coincidence of the impact in the second last capture of the night. Each of the images in the time lapse are clear because they have been processed from 55 seconds of video. the impact itself however only lasts less than two seconds, so I have shown this part without processing.

The time lapse was made using an 11″ SCT with an ASI120mm camera and Ir-pass 742nm filter. The time-lapse is 3.5 hours showing the transits of Io and Ganymede with the emergence of Europa all before the impact happening at 00:18:45UT on the right side of the planet.

Jupiter gets hit with asteroids all of the time. On record we have the 1994 capture of famed comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, and other significant events in 2009, 2010.

It’s a bit early to conclude exactly what this object was (an asteroid, or comet) but NASA expert Paul Chodas tells Space.com that it’s probably not a comet due to the sheer abundance of asteroids in our solar system.

“It’s more likely to be an asteroid simply because there are more of them.”

Jupiter Just Got Hit With An Asteroid And Here's The Video

A view of the impact flash on Jupiter (right side of image).

Because of Jupiter’s massive size, asteroids and comets from the Kuiper belt are constantly pulled inwards towards the gas giant. And it’s a good thing; these comets and asteroids would come careening towards the inner planets if not.

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Scientists Investigate Suspected Meteorite Death In Southern India

Scientists Investigate Suspected Meteorite Death In Southern India

CHENNAI (Reuters) – Indian scientists are investigating whether a man was killed by a meteorite, which if confirmed would be the first recorded death from falling fragments of space rock in almost 200 years.

Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has said a bus driver at a college in her state was killed by the meteorite and awarded 100,000 rupees ($1,470) in compensation to his family.

“A meteorite fell within the college premises,” Jayalalithaa said. The man “sustained serious injuries and died while on the way to the hospital”.

Jayalalithaa, a former film star, left tight-lipped local officials struggling to explain the mystery blast at the engineering college that left a small crater and broke windows.

The bus driver was standing on a patch of grass near the college cafeteria when he was killed, while two gardeners and a student were injured, officials said. A dark blue stone resembling a diamond was found at the scene.

Government officials at first suspected the blast was caused by explosives accidentally left after building work. However, investigations found no evidence of explosive material at the site.

“When no evidence of explosive material was found, we moved to the theory that it might be a meteorite,” said a district official who asked not be named. “It is not confirmed yet as samples need to be analyzed.”

A team from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics was expected to visit on Tuesday to collect samples.  

G. Baskar, the principal of the college in Vellore district, was working in his cabin when he heard an explosion.

“It was a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before,” he said. “There was no smell at all, no fire, nothing.”

The last reported death from a meteorite strike was in 1825, according to a list kept by International Comet Quarterly, a scientific journal.

Simon Goodwin, an astrophysics expert from Britain’s University of Sheffield, said meteorite deaths were rare because the rocks usually burn up when passing through the Earth’s atmosphere or land in the ocean or hit remote areas.

“When you look at the fraction of the Earth’s surface that is heavily populated, it’s not very much,” he said.

In 2013, a meteorite exploded over central Russia, raining fireballs over a vast area and causing a shock wave that smashed windows, damaged buildings and injured 1,200 people.

By Sandhya Ravishankar

Image: Wiki

(Editing by Andrew MacAskill and Nick Macfie)

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Doomsday Asteroid Will Hit Earth February 16th, Claims Conspiracy Theorist

Reports from one Dr. Dyomin Damir Zakharovich would have us believe that 2016 W49 is on a devastating collision course with Earth that could trigger extinction and mega-tsunami.

We wrote about 2016 W49 earlier this month, it’s a comet that NASA believes will pass by our planet at a distance of 51 million kilometers, or 32 million miles. It was first spotted by NASA’s NEOWISE project on November 27th. And it should be close enough to be visible in the Northern Hemisphere during the first weeks of 2017. But according to one conspiracy theorist, a little too visible…

Dr. Dyomin Damir Zakharovich’s name has been popping up online in recent months in conspiracy circles, he claims “we are all in peril”. He thinks 2016 W49 is going to make impact with Earth on February 16th.

“The object they call WF9 left the Nibiru system in October when Nibiru began spinning counter clockwise around the sun. Since then, Nasa has known it will hit Earth. But they are only telling people now.”

According to NASA “The trajectory of 2016 WF9 is well understood, and the object is not a threat to Earth for the foreseeable future”.

An artist’s rendition of 2016 WF9 as it passes Jupiter’s orbit inbound toward the sun. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

What we do know about 2016 W49 is that it’s about 0.3 to 0.6 miles (0.5 to 1 kilometre) across and it’s very dark (only reflecting a small fraction of light from it’s surface). NASA believes that “2016 WF9 could have cometary origins”, according to Deputy Principal Investigator James ‘Gerbs’ Bauer at JPL. And that ‘Nibiru’ is more commonly referred to as Planet X, a controversial mystery planet that if exists, is believed to hurl matter into our inner solar system.

When 2016 W49 was first spotted, it was unclear if it was a comet or an asteroid. Distinctions between comets and asteroids are as follows: comets are icy with long tails, whereas asteroids are mainly comprised of rocks and metals. What’s interesting is that this object is neither; it’s similar to a comet in that it surface is dark and unreflective, yet it doesn’t have the dust and ice tail we usually see. The mystery is also caused a confusion as to it’s origin.

2016 WF9 could have cometary origins. This object illustrates that the boundary between asteroids and comets is a blurry one; perhaps over time this object has lost the majority of the volatiles that linger on or just under its surface.”

– Deputy Principal Investigator James Bauer at NASA JPL

Our money is on the NASA prediction, but with a conspired impact date of February 16th, we’ll all find out soon enough.

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Geminid Meteors Over Xinglong Observatory

Geminid Meteors Over Xinglong Observatory

These are the Geminind Meteors as captured over the Xinglong Observatory in China.

the bits of rock that create the streaks of the Geminid Meteor Shower appear to flow out from the constellation of Gemini. Last week, over 50 meteors including a bright fireball were captured streaking above Xinglong Observatory in China. The Geminids of December are one of the most active meteor showers, investigations into it’s origin are ongoing.

Credit: Steed Yu

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fukang-meteorite

Fukang Meteorite

Fukang Meteorite 

This is the Fukang Meteorite. It’s over 4.5 billion years old, weighs more than 2,000 pounds. Discovered in China in 2014, some scientists believe that it was formed when our solar system was first created.

Credit: Meteorite Laboratory Arizona

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