A New Discovery, A 9th Planet In Our Solar System?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA NEWS AGENCY, THE VERGE)

 

A new discovery is strengthening the idea that a large, mysterious planet — known as Planet 9 or Planet X — may be lurking unseen at the Solar System’s edge. Astronomers say they have found a tiny object orbiting far out from the Sun that fits with the Planet X theory. In fact, the object may have even been pushed onto the path it takes now by this hidden planet’s gravity.

The tiny rock — eloquently named TG387 and nicknamed “The Goblin” — was spotted by astronomers at the Carnegie Institution of Science using a giant Japanese observatory in Hawaii called Subaru. The Carnegie team first spotted the object in 2015 and then followed it on its journey around the Sun for the last four years. Those observations revealed an incredibly distant target. TG387 takes a whopping 40,000 years to complete just one orbit around the Sun. And it’s on a very elliptical path far from the inner Solar System; the closest it ever gets to the Sun is 65 Astronomical Units (AU), or 65 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth. For reference, Pluto only gets as far as 49 AU’s from the Sun.

This orbit is particularly enticing since it puts TG387 in a select group of distant Solar System objects that all point to the possible existence of Planet X. Right now, there are 14 far-out space rocks that all share similar orbit patterns, suggesting that this planet is out there. Their paths are all super elongated, and they all cluster together in the same area when they approach the Sun. Plus, their orbits are all tilted alike, and they point in the same general direction, as if something big has pushed them into similar places. These objects are the strongest lines of evidence astronomers have for Planet X, and finding a new one that matches this pattern reinforces that idea that this planet is more than just a theory.

A graphic showing relative distances of the planets and the new Solar System object
 Image: Robert Molar Candanosa/Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Science Institution

Plus, each new find helps astronomers narrow down where to look for Planet X. “Each time we find another one of these smaller objects, it will lead us to constrain where the bigger planet could be,” Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at Carnegie Science and the lead author of a study in The Astronomical Journal detailing the discovery, tells The Verge. “They’re all on very similar orbits, but their orbits are all slightly different, which [limits] where the planet could be.”

The idea that a giant planet is lurking beyond Neptune is an idea that astronomers have speculated for the last century. However, the hunt for this planet turned much more serious in 2012, when Sheppard and his team found a far-flung object that was truly unique. It was an object called VP113, and it currently holds the record for the most distant object orbiting the Sun. The closest it ever gets to the star is 80 AU’s, or 80 times the Earth-Sun distance. Sheppard noticed that this object also followed a path similar to those of a few other distant space rocks, as well as a far-off dwarf planet called Sedna. “They all have this clustering, and so that suggested that something was pushing them into similar types of orbits,” says Sheppard.

Then, in 2016, a pair of researchers from Cal Tech, Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin, did the math. Based on the orbits of six of these objects, they estimated that there’s a planet roughly 10 times the mass of Earth orbiting far beyond Neptune. Their calculations showed that it possibly takes 10,000 to 20,000 years to orbit the Sun. Brown and Batygin dubbed the phantom planet “Planet 9,” though others had been calling it Planet X years before.

The orbit of TG387, compared to those of Sedna and VP113
 Image: Robert Molar Candanosa/Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Science Institution

Since then, more and more objects have been found that fit this orbit pattern. The idea is that these objects are in just the right orbits needed to survive Planet X’s gravitational wrath. If they followed any other path, they would likely collide with the big planet or the planet’s gravity would send them hurtling out of the Solar System. However, all of these very distant extreme objects orbit in such a way that they never get close to Planet X when it crosses their orbits. “Whenever the planet is crossing the orbit of one of these objects, these objects are on the other side of the Solar System. So they never get close to each other,” says Sheppard.

But not all of these objects are as reliable narrators as they could be. “Among these 14 objects, some tell a more precise story than others,” Batygin, who was not involved with today’s study, tells The Verge. For one thing, some of the objects cross the orbit of Neptune, and that planet’s gravity might have some influence on the objects and warp their routes. “Neptune has the effect of muddying things up, even if you have an orbit carefully sculpted by Planet 9.” That makes it hard to know whether or not the object is truly pushed about by this unseen planet.

TG387 as it moves across the sky, as seen through the Subaru telescope
 Image: Scott Sheppard

But this new discovery, TG387, is special because its orbit is so distant. When it’s farthest from the Sun, the rock will be at an extreme 2,300 AU’s away. In fact, it’s remarkable that astronomers found it all since it’s about seven times smaller than Pluto and so far off. But because of its extreme distance, TG387 is not influenced in any way by the large objects in the inner Solar System. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune don’t have any effect on its orbit. That means if this object was truly batted around by Planet X, it might hold more information about the planet’s orbit than other objects do. And when the team ran simulations of the Solar System with a Planet X in it, they found that this object’s orbit isn’t subject to change. “This one joins an elite group of six objects that are stable,” says Batygin.

Of course, Planet X is nowhere near a done deal. There are only 14 objects that potentially support its existence. That’s a super low number by statistical standards. “We don’t have tens of these objects,” Michele Bannister, an astronomer studying distant small bodies at Queen’s University Belfast, who was not involved with this research, tells The Verge. “I’d be very happy if we had tens, but there’s barely even a handful.” Additionally, Bannister says it’s important to remember that astronomers still don’t have a comprehensive snapshot of the distant Solar System. The time of year, the weather, and the part of the sky a telescope observes all influence the kind of objects that are discovered out there, adding bias to the sample.

Plus, the objects that we find are typically on their closest approaches to the Sun on their super distant orbits, and that skews our discoveries a bit. For instance, TG387 was found when it was around 80 AU’s away, not thousands of AU’s away. That means we may not have a good idea of what all is out there because we can’t see the objects that are super far out on their orbits. “Each of these objects we detect is the tip of an iceberg for a larger population,” says Bannister. For every new discovery made, there must be hundreds of thousands of more objects that astronomers can’t see. And those objects could tell a different story than the Planet X one.

However, Bannister, who predicted that an object like TG387 could exist in the Solar System, does say this discovery is instrumental in helping to shape our understanding of the distant Solar System. We still don’t understand why there are objects like this one that are completely detached from the rest of the planets. “They’ve made a great discovery,” she says. “These are exactly the objects we need to be finding to understand the formation and history of our Solar System.”

Meanwhile, our best hope in the search for Planet X is to find more objects that corroborate its existence. “We don’t expect every object we find to fit this pattern, though that is what is happening right now,” says Sheppard. Better yet, finding Planet X would be pretty convincing, too. The problem is that there’s a lot of sky to scour and our telescopes don’t cover that much area at a time. The Subaru telescope in Hawaii is perhaps the best tool since it can observe the area of about six full Moons at a time. But it’s still tough to pinpoint the exact location of such a faraway, faint planet. “It’s a lot like looking for your target with a sniper rifle,” says Batygin. “You have to know where to look.”

But TG387 does help point astronomers in a slightly better direction. Before this discovery, there were about 30 orbits that Sheppard and his team thought Planet X could be on. Now, there are only 25 or so, he says. And the astronomers will be back at Subaru in mid-October to pick up the search. “We’ve covered about 30 percent of the prime area, and we hope by the end of this year, we’ll have covered 60 to 70 percent of that prime area,” says Sheppard.

If Planet X is found, then a whole new crop of questions will arise. Perhaps the biggest one of all is where did it come from? Most don’t think it’s possible for this planet to have formed where it is now. It likely formed in the inner Solar System and got flung outward, perhaps by Jupiter or Saturn. “That would suggest a lot of big things formed in our Solar System, and it was a very chaotic place in the formation era,” says Sheppard.

But before those questions can be answered, Planet X must be found. And those on the hunt are sure it will happen. “I’m really quite confident — about a 99 percent level of confidence — that Planet 9 is really out there,” says Batygin. “It might take on the order of a decade to find, but I’m quite confident it’s there.”

Elon Musk Just Revealed Who The First Civilian To Fly Around The Moon Is

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BUSINESS INSIDER)

 

Elon Musk just revealed who will fly to the moon on SpaceX’s new rocket ship

yusaku maezawa
Yusaku Maezawa
 SpaceX
  • Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX, plan to launch a private passenger named Yusaku Maezawa around the moon.
  • Yusaku Maezawa is a Japanese entrepreneur and art collector. If all goes according to plan, Maezawa will take a lunar voyage on the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR: a launch system that SpaceX is developing to colonize Mars.

  • Maezawa purchased all seats on the spaceship, and plans to select six to eight artists from a variety of disciplines to take the lunar journey with him in 2023.

  • The mission won’t land on the surface of the moon but will ferry Maezawa and his artist crewmates around Earth’s natural satellite.

HAWTHORNE, California — Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX, have revealed who will fly their spaceship around the moon for the first time: a Japanese entrepreneur and billionaire named Yusaku Maezawa.

“Finally I can tell you that I choose to go to the moon!” Maezawa said during an announcement Monday evening.

Maezawa also revealed that he has purchased all seats on the first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket— anew launch system that’s being designed to colonize Mars. Besides himself, Maezawa plans to select six to eight artists to accompany him on his journey around the moon. The artists have not yet been chosen, but part of the project will involve them creating work inspired by their lunar journey after they return to Earth.

“If you should hear from me, please say yes and accept my invitation. Please don’t say no,” Maezawa said.

SpaceX did not reveal how much Maezawa paid for the lunar flight, but said it was a significant sum and that he already made a down payment.

“He’s paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster,” Musk said on Monday. “He’s ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets.”

yusaku maezawa
Yusaku Maezawa
 SpaceX

Maezawa was a skateboarder and drummer in his youth, and founded the custom fashion company Zozo 20 years ago. The billionaire made news last year when he spent $110 million on a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. He said that he was inspired to bring a group of renowned artists with him around the moon after thinking of the masterpieces Basquiat would have created had he flown through space.

If all goes according to plan, Maezawa and his artist crew may become the first-ever private lunar tourists in history. The mission is slated to launch as soon as 2023, though Musk said he can’t be sure about that timeline yet.

Musk described Maezawa as incredibly brave.

“This is going to be dangerous. This is no walk in the park,” Musk said.

spacex moon mission big falcon rocket spaceship bfr bfs illustration
SpaceX’s rendering of a Big Falcon Rocket spaceship carrying a passenger around the moon.
SpaceX/Twitter

Musk also revealed some major design changes to the BFR. Instead of standing 347 feet tall, it will be 387 feet tall. It will have front actuator fins, as well as three back wings that will function as its landing pads.

The system’s spaceship, which will ride atop a rocket booster, is expected to carry up to 100 people and 150 tons of supplies.

SpaceX is currently prototyping the spaceship and other BFR hardware inside a 20,000-square-foot tent at the Port of Los Angeles — at least until a much bigger permanent facility is completed. The first portion of the system has already been built, Musk said.

The project is incredibly ambitious and expensive — the total development costs for BFR are somewhere between $2 billion and $10 billion, Musk said.

“It’s hard to say what the development cost is,” he said. “I think it’s roughly $5 billion”

Prior to Monday’s announcement, Musk last publicly described the BFR and showed renderings of the system at the 2017 International Aeronautical Congress.

Although the design for the exterior has been altered since then, Musk said on Monday that SpaceX still only has “some concepts” for the interior of the ship.

“What is the most fun you can have in zero G?” Musk said when asked about the interior design. “We’ll do that”

Aerospace experts who follow Musk and SpaceX’s activities suggest that there could likely be more iterations of the BFR design before the company’s first lunar voyage lifts off the launch pad.

“I think it is really healthy to see this iterative change happening, because I believe we can assume it is based on actual development and simulation going on,” Greg Autry, the director of the Southern California Spaceflight Initiative, told Business Insider in an email before Musk’s announcement.

But Musk said “this is the final iteration in terms of broad architectural design.”

spacex big falcon rocket bfr spaceship booster launch bfs bfb rendering illustration elon musk twitter
A Sept. 2018 rendering of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket launching through the cloud tops and toward space.
Elon Musk/SpaceX via Twitter

He added that SpaceX plans to shift a majority of the company’s engineering efforts towards BFR by the end of next year, and welcomes the growing competition in the private space race.

“Why is it 2018 and there’s no damn base on the moon?” Musk said. “We should have one and go there. A lot.”

This story is developing. Please refresh this page for updates.

Dana Varinsky contributed reporting to this post.

SEE ALSO: Elon Musk is building a spaceship that’s so ambitious that some experts are calling it ‘science fiction.’ Here’s what SpaceX and its engineers are up against.

DON’T MISS: Astronauts explain why nobody has visited the moon in more than 45 years — and the reasons are depressing

“Planet Nine” Might Be Invisible, Hiding Beyond Neptune

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘ADVOCATOR NEWS’)

 

“Planet Nine” Might Be Invisible, Hiding Beyond Neptune, Scientists Think

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Increasingly more astronomers from all around the world believe that there is the so-called “Planet Nine,” hiding beyond Neptune. On the other hand, circumstantial evidence of its existence continues to gather, while some scientists also think that the mysterious planet might be invisible to our current observatories.

“Every time we take a picture, there is this possibility that Planet Nine exists in the shot,” said Surhud More from the University of Tokyo.

On the other hand, Michael Brown from the California Institute of Technology believes that “Planet Nine” will eventually be discovered by astronomers, but, so far, our existing observatories are not capable of detecting the mysterious space object.

Also, in 2016, Michael Brown, along with his team, studied the planetoid found in 2014 and which revealed that some mini ice-worlds at the outermost border of our Solar System followed similar paths around the Sun. This discovery boosted the beliefs in the existence of the so-called “Planet Nine.”

If there’s a “Planet Nine” hiding far beyond Neptune, it is invisible for us

According to Michael Brown and Konstantin Batygin, the mysterious planet would weigh between five and 20 Earth masses, while it would follow an elliptical orbit hundreds or even 1,000 times more distant from the Sun in comparison to the Earth’s orbit.

At such a distance, space is too dark for the current observatories to spot the “Planet Nine” directly. Accordingly, this strange object would be by 160,000 times dimmer than Neptune is at 30 AU (astronomical unit – Earth-Sun distance). So, at about 1,000 AU, “Planet Nine” would be by 1 million times dimmer.

On the other hand, even if the scientists use the most potent observatory of the moment, the Subaru telescope in Hawaii which has a wide field of view permitting astronomers to access a search area of the size of 4,000 full moons, there is very challenging to observe such a distant world.

At the moment of the observation, the “Planet Nine” might hide in the light pollution of the Milky Way, could find itself in the shine of a bright star, or, even worse, it might be at a specific point of its orbit beyond the 1,000 AU-limit which would make it entirely invisible for at least a thousand years.

So, at the moment, the scientists believe there’s something beyond Neptune that causes some disturbances in the orbit of other space objects, but could that be “Planet Nine?” So far, nobody knows.

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Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP section.

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Snowy dirtballs streak across sky in dazzling meteor shower

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ST. GEORGE NEWS)

 

Snowy dirtballs streak across sky in dazzling meteor shower

Composite image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Earth’s ancient relative, the Smith-Tuttle comet, is set to be the headliner for three nights in August, producing a brilliant light show as fragments of the 4-billion-year-old snowy dirtball streak across the skies during one of the most active meteor showers of the year.

The Perseid meteor shower will make its peak three-night appearance from Aug. 11-13, and is known to be a rich, steady meteor shower that sends 60-70 meteors slamming into the Earth’s atmosphere at more than 130,000 mph every hour. This year’s meteor shower event will be make even more spectacular by the “slender waxing crescent moon,” according to EarthSky’s 2018 Meteor Shower Guide. 

Star map depicting outline of constellations, including Perseus, where the Perseid meteor shower originates | Image courtesy of EarthSky, St. George News

Meteors are small fragments of cosmic debris entering the earth’s atmosphere at extremely high speed. They are caused by the copious amounts of particles produced each time a comet swings around the sun and eventually spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a meteoroid stream.

If the Earth’s orbit intersects with the comet’s orbit, as it does with the Swift-Tuttle Comet, then it passes through that stream, which produces a meteor shower. If that intersection occurs at roughly the same time each year, then it becomes an annual shower, according to the American Meteor Society.

Swift-Tuttle has an eccentric, oblong orbit around the sun that takes 133 years. The comet’s orbit takes it outside the orbit of Pluto when farthest from the sun, and inside the Earth’s orbit when closest to the sun, releasing particles of ice and dust that become part of the Perseid meteor shower.

Perseid showers last for weeks instead of days and have been streaking across the sky since July 17, and while they are heaviest during the three-day period beginning Saturday, they will continue for at least 10 days after.

The fast, bright meteors appear in all parts of the sky, roughly 50 to 75 miles above the earth’s surface and leave continual trains, which is the persistent glow caused by the luminous interplanetary rock and dust left in the wake of the meteoroid, and often remain long after the light trail has dissipated.

These meteors, which can reach temperatures of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, start from northerly latitudes during mid-to-late evening and tend to strengthen in number as the night continues, typically producing the greatest number of showers in the hours just before dawn, which is also moonless and makes them easier to see against the black backdrop.

Because meteor shower particles are all traveling in parallel paths at the same velocity, they appear to radiate from a single point in the sky, similar to railroad tracks converging to a single point as they vanish beyond the horizon. The Perseid shower originates from a point in front of the constellation Perseus, which ranks 24 on the list of largest constellations and is visible from August to March in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here are Perseid meteor shower viewing tips:

  • An open sky is essential as these meteors streak across the sky in many different directions and in front of a number of constellations.
  • Getting as far away from city lights will provide the best view, and the best time to watch the showers is between midnight and dawn.
  • Provide at least an hour to sky watch, as it can take the eyes up to 20 minutes to adapt to the darkness of night.
  • Put away the telescope or binoculars, as using either one reduces the amount of sky you can see at one time, and lowers the odds that you’ll see a meteor.
  • Let your eyes relax and don’t look in any one specific spot. Relaxed eyes will quickly catch any movement in the sky and you’ll be able to spot more meteors.
  • Be sure to dress appropriately – wear clothing appropriate for cold overnight temperatures.
  • Bring something comfortable on which to sit or lie. A reclining chair or pad will make it far more comfortable to keep your gaze on the night sky.
  • Avoid looking at your cell phone or any other light, as both destroy night vision.

To mix things up a bit, the Delta Aquariids meteor shower, which peaked July 27, the same night as the century’s longest lunar eclipse, is still showering icy space dust across the sky and is running simultaneously with the Perseid’s.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

Astronomers see mystery explosion 200 million light-years away

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF EARTHSKY NEWS)

 

Astronomers see mystery explosion 200 million light-years away

Supernovae, or exploding stars, are relatively common. But now astronomers have observed a baffling new type of cosmic explosion, believed to be some 10 to 100 times brighter than an ordinary supernova.

Discovery image of AT2018cow – nicknamed The Cow by astronomers – acquired by the ATLAS telescopes. Image via Stephen Smartt/ATLAS.

Space might seem unchanging as you stand on Earth looking up at the inky blackness, but it isn’t, always. Indeed, the stillness can be punctuated at times by immense explosions, such as when stars go supernova in brilliant bursts of light. Supernovae are common, relatively speaking. But now scientists have observed a new type of explosion in space, and so far they don’t have an explanation for it. A science team reported the explosion on June 17, 2018, in The Astronomer’s Telegram, which is an internet-based publication service for disseminating new astronomical information quickly. The discovery team then discussed the explosion in a June 22 article in the popular weekly science magazine New Scientist. They said they saw the immense flash coming to us from another galaxy, 200 million light-years away. And, they said, this flash must have been 10 to 100 times brighter than a typical supernova.

The mysterious flash has been nicknamed The Cow by astronomers since it was listed as AT2018cow in a database, thanks to the randomized three-letter naming system.

The asteroid-tracking ATLAS telescopes at Keck Observatory in Hawaii were the first to see the mystery explosion. At first, astronomers thought it originated in our own galaxy. They thought it might be what’s called a cataclysmic variable star, typically two stars orbiting one another and interacting in a way that increases the whole system’s brightness irregularly. But subsequent spectroscopic observations showed the explosion came from another galaxy – labeled CGCG 137-068 – located some 200 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Hercules.

As astronomer Kate Maguire of Queen’s University Belfast noted simply to New Scientist:

It really just appeared out of nowhere.

The ATLAS telescopes acquired these images of AT2018cow, before the explosion (middle) and after it (left) in the galaxy CGCG 137-068. The far-right image shows the difference between the two and reveals the sudden brightening. Image via Stephen Smartt/ATLAS.

Indeed, and it certainly took astronomers by surprise. But apart from the brightness, the most unusual aspect of the explosion was its speed, reaching peak brightness in just two days; most supernovae take weeks to do that. As Maguire also noted:

There are other objects that have been discovered that are as fast, but the fastness and the brightness, that’s quite unusual. There hasn’t really been another object like this.

Stephen Smartt, an astrophysicist at Queen’s University Belfast and a lead scientist for the ATLAS survey, commentedto the Washington Post on June 25 that:

I’ve never seen anything like this before in the local universe.

As to what caused this intense blast, scientists don’t know yet, but they say that it is composed of a 16,000 degree Fahrenheit (9,000 degree Celsius) cloud of high-energy particles, expanding outward at 12,000 miles (20,000 kilometers) per second. It is also very bright in all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, and its spectrum is also “surprisingly smooth,” unlike most supernovae which have distinct absorption lines. According to Smartt:

No one has successfully matched them yet to the known features we normally see in supernova.

Artist’s concept shows dust forming in an environment around a supernova explosion. Could The Cow be an object like this? If so, why is it so much brighter than an ordinary supernova? Image via ESO/M. Kornmesser.

After the flash was reported to The Astronomer’s Telegram, astronomy teams used at least 18 telescopes from around the world to study the occurrence. According to Robert Rutledge, editor-in-chief of The Astronomer’s Telegram and an astrophysicist at McGill University in Canada:

I think it’s the most notices for any individual object in such a short period of time. It has produced a lot of interest.

But if the flash isn’t a typical supernova, then what is it? As Maguire noted:

We’re not sure yet what it is, but the normal powering mechanism for a supernova is radioactive decay of nickel, and this event is too bright and too fast for that.

It could be a type 1c supernova, where the core has collapsed in a massive star that has already lost its outer veil of hydrogen and helium, but only further observations will help to determine that, or rule it out as an explanation. Astronomers will continue to study this fascinating mystery, even though the blast has already started to fade now.

Location of AT2018cow in the distant galaxy CGCG 137-068, located in our sky in the direction of the constellation Hercules. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom line: Astronomers have another fascinating mystery on their hands, as they try to figure out the nature of a huge, unusual explosion – labeled AT2018cow, nicknamed The Cow by astronomers – in a distant galaxy. Is it a type of supernova, or something more exotic?

Via The Astronomer’s TelegramNew Scientist and the Washington Post.

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Mysterious ‘Oumuamua’ space object has finally been identified

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS AND ‘MARCH’)

 

Mysterious ‘Oumuamua’ space object has finally been identified

Astronomers say the cigar-shaped interstellar visitor isn’t an asteroid, but a comet.
by David Freeman / 
Image: Oumuamua

Observations show that the interstellar visitor “Oumuamua” was traveling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system.M. Kornmesser/European Southern Observatory / NASA

When astronomers first spied a weird cigar-shaped object speeding past the sun last October, they could tell from its path that it had come from another star system — but they didn’t know exactly what it was.

Now they know. A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature indicates that the interstellar visitor, dubbed Oumuamua, is neither an asteroid nor an alien spacecraft (as some wags had suggested) but a small interstellar comet.

“It’s the only such object discovered so far,” Marco Micheli, an astronomer with the European Space Agency and the lead author of the new study, told NBC News MACH in an email.

Image: Oumuamua
This artist’s illustration shows ‘Oumuamua racing toward the outskirts of our solar system, and is annotated with the locations of the planetary orbits. As the complex rotation of the object makes it difficult to determine the exact shape, there are many models of what it could look like.JPL / NASA

Comets — icy, dusty objects that have been likened to “dirty snowballs” — typically form long tails when they come close to the sun. No such tail was visible in earlier observations of Oumuamua (which means “scout” in Hawaiian), a fact that helped lead other astronomers to conclude that it was an asteroid.

But an analysis of new observations made by ground-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope yielded a surprise: Oumuamua’s trajectory couldn’t be explained solely by the gravitational forces exerted on it by the sun and the planets — as would be the case if it were an asteroid, or space rock.

“Unexpectedly, we found that Oumuamua was not slowing down as fast as it should have under gravitational forces alone,” Micheli said in a statement.

His team concluded that the unexpected motion of Oumuamua had to be caused by the spewing out of small quantities of gaseous materials from its surface. This “outgassing” — commonly seen in comets — was too small to be visible but significant enough to affect Oumuamua’s trajectory.

But not everyone is buying that explanation — at least not completely.

Alan Jackson, an astronomer at the University of Toronto Scarborough, told MACH in an email that if Oumuamua is a comet, it must be one that lost much of its ice before leaving its home star system.

“A comet that has lost enough of its ice is essentially the same as an asteroid,” he said. “Oumuamua thus seems to be in that ambiguous region between the two.”

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Jackson conducted previous research on Oumuamua but was not involved in the new study.

Whatever its precise identity, Oumuamua might be just the first of many such interstellar visitors we’ll encounter. Jackson said new telescopes should help astronomers find “a lot more objects like Oumuamua and we will then be able to put together a more complete picture of what the building blocks of planets look like in other planetary systems, which will also help us to understand how planets form.”

Oumaumau is now headed to the outer solar system at a speed of about 70,000 miles per hour. Astronomers expect it to pass Neptune’s orbit in four years.

“The object is now too faint to observe, so no new data will be acquired,” Micheli said in the email. “But I expect scientists will keep working on their data for quite some time.”

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Asteroid on Course to Earth Was Spotted Just Hours Before It Hit The Atmosphere

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Asteroid on Course to Earth Was Spotted Just Hours Before It Hit The Atmosphere

Surprise!

ALEX HORTON, THE WASHINGTON POST
5 JUN 2018

Witnesses reported a fireball streaking across the sky above Botswana on Saturday night.

The asteroid hurtling toward Earth at 10 miles (16 km) a second looked like it could be the harbinger of catastrophe. A webcam in a rural area west of Johannesburg captured it, showing a luminous orb igniting the sky in a bright flash.

NASA had only discovered the asteroid on Saturday and determined it was on a collision course for the planet, charted for entry in a vast expanse from Southern Africa and across the Indian Ocean to New Guinea and given the name 2018 LA.

The reality of the asteroid’s fiery end was less dramatic than the video shows. The asteroid was estimated at just six feet (1.8 metres) across, otherwise known as boulder-sized, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

It burned up “several miles” above the Earth’s surface.

NASA and space enthusiasts do not get many opportunities like this. Asteroid 2018 LA was only the third asteroid discovered on an impact trajectory, the agency said, and just the second time a high probability of impact was determined ahead of time.

The last predicted impact was asteroid 2014 AA, and it too was discovered only hours before it entered the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean on New Year’s Day in 2014, NASA said.

“[T]his real-world event allows us to exercise our capabilities and gives some confidence our impact prediction models are adequate to respond to the potential impact of a larger object,” said Lindley Johnson, an official at NASA’s Planetary Defense team, which tracks and warns of asteroids that may pose a threat to the planet.

KFDLE7J3A4ZMJHHOSXVO67EJUAThe discovery observations of Asteroid 2018 LA. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/CSS-Univ. of Arizona)

Asteroids are small remnants of violent collisions in the solar system’s history and formed around 4.5 billion years ago.

They are typically composed of rock-forming minerals like olivine and pyroxene but often contain iron and nickel, NASA said.

The Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter contains hundreds of thousands of asteroids more than half a mile in size or more, with millions of smaller objects tumbling in space.

Asteroid 2018 LA was first discovered by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey operated by the University of Arizona, the agency said. NASA linked to the video in its statement, and the publisher said on YouTube the video is from his father’s South African farm.

NASA relies on a patchwork of observers to track what it calls near-Earth asteroids, the agency explained in a video.

Constantly scanning telescopes capture images of the sky and movement through photos over time triggers a comparison of known objects in a database.

If the object is unknown, the agency will review the object and expedite the analysis if experts determine it will streak close to the Earth. Astronomers from NASA, other space agencies and even amateur enthusiasts then join in to refine the trajectory.

2018 © The Washington Post

This article was originally published by The Washington Post.

Popular Science’s Planet #9

 

The elusive Planet Nine might be responsible for this asteroid’s bizarre orbit

Something’s got the Kuiper belt’s rocks off, and there’s a scramble to find it.

Planet Nine

An artist’s interpretation of Planet Nine.

Kevin Gill via Flickr

For a few years now, the astronomy world has been hard at work searching for a ninth planet of the solar system (no, not Pluto, it’s time to move on). There’s evidence of something massive hanging around in the outer reaches of the solar system—10 times more massive than Earth, big enough to gravitationally warp the orbits of smaller objects in its vicinity, 10 to 20 times farther away than Pluto. And yet it apparently continues to hide in plain sight, eluding our best efforts to observe it directly. If a planet orbits the sun and nobody’s there to see it, is it even real?

The latest tantalizing bit of evidence to back up Planet Nine’s existence is an asteroid called 2015 BP519, first discovered three years ago in the vast reaches of the Kuiper belt (the region of the solar system beyond Neptune). We now know the asteroid possesses a bizarre elliptical orbit that suggests something gigantic is pulling at the little bugger as it tries to make its journey around the sun.

“I’m pretty excited about the new object,” says Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, one of the first people to characterize Planet Nine, who was not involved with the study. “It is the predicted link between the very distant elongated orbits that we’ve known about and the much closer tilted orbits that we’ve seen.”

In a new paper led by Juliette Becker, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, a group of researchers outline the discovery of BP519 through the Dark Energy Survey, an international collaboration that uses visible and near-infrared observations to study the expansion of the universe. It’s not exactly a typical object-hunting tool, but the DES is optimized for observing objects above the planet of the solar system—objects like BP519, which has an orbit tilted 54 degrees with respect to the solar system’s plane.

“The moment we saw its fitted orbit, we knew it was a remarkable object,” says Becker. “If the solar system is thought of as concentric rings sitting flat on a table, BP519’s orbit is another, larger oval tilted more than halfway up toward the ceiling.”

That’s where the influence of Planet Nine comes in. “Planet Nine, if it exists, could take objects that start out closer to the table and cause their orbits to change with time to eventually look like BP519’s orbit,” says Becker.

Besides its unique orbital inclination, we also know the object is perhaps the size of a dwarf planet, and its distance from the sun is about 450 times farther than Earth’s.

While other explanations could explain the asteroid’s strange orbit, such as a rogue star flying by the neighborhood, or a scattering effect created by a giant planet migration, none of those theories seem to fit the bill as well as Planet Nine. “At the moment, Planet Nine seems like the most likely culprit to me,” says Becker.

In addition, “this is the first discovery of a Kuiper belt object drawn from a population that was not already mapped out before our formulation of the Planet Nine hypothesis,” says Konstantin Batygin, a planetary scientist at Caltech who has led the investigation of Planet Nine in partnership with Brown. “Our theoretical models predict the existence of exactly this type of inclined orbit in the distant Kuiper belt, and seeing this prediction materialize into observational reality is extremely satisfying.”

Nevertheless, both Brown and Batygin emphasize the new discovery doesn’t do much in helping astronomers actually find Planet Nine. “We now know of so many objects influenced by Planet Nine, that adding a single extra one doesn’t significantly change our view,” says Brown. “Finding a few dozen more would be very helpful though!”

Nor is it certain BP519 even has anything to do with a new planet. “The only totally convincing evidence,” says Becker, “will be a direct detection of Planet Nine.” Something’s got the Kuiper belt’s rocks off, and there’s a scramble to find it.

New Earth Found?

New Earth Found?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

Habitable planet found outside solar system

SCIENTISTS on Wednesday announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star nearest our Sun, opening up the glittering prospect of a habitable world that may one day be explored by robots.

Named Proxima b, the planet is in a “temperate” zone compatible with the presence of liquid water — a key ingredient for life.

The findings, based on data collected over 16 years, were reported in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

“We have finally succeeded in showing that a small-mass planet, most likely rocky, is orbiting the star closest to our solar system,” said co-author Julien Morin, an astrophysicist at the University of Montpellier in southern France.

“Proxima b would probably be the first exoplanet visited by a probe made by humans,” he said.

An exoplanet is any planet outside our Solar System.

Lead author Guillem Anglada-Escude, an astronomer at Queen Mary University London, described the find as the “experience of a lifetime.”

Working with European Southern Observatory telescopes in the north Chilean desert, his team used the so-called Doppler method to detect Proxima b and describe its properties.

The professional star-gazers spent 60 consecutive days earlier this year looking for signs of gravitational pull on its host star, Proxima Centauri.

Regular shifts in the star’s light spectrum — repeating every 11.2 days — gave a tantalising clue.

They revealed that the star alternately moved towards and away from our Solar System at the pace of a leisurely stroll, about five kilometers per hour.

Goldilocks zone

After cross-checking an inconclusive 2000-2014 dataset and eliminating other possible causes, the researchers determined that the tug of an orbiting planet was responsible for this tiny to-and-fro.

“Statistically, there is no doubt,” Anglada-Escude told journalists in a briefing.

“We have found a planet around Proxima Centauri.”

Proxima b is a mere four light years from the Solar System, meaning that it is essentially in our back yard on the scale of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

It has a mass around 1.3 times that of Earth, and orbits about seven million kilometers from its star.

A planet so near to our Sun — 21 times closer than Earth — would be an unlivable white-hot ball of fire.

But Proxima Centauri is a so-called red dwarf, meaning a star that burns at a lower temperature.

As a result, the newly discovered planet is in a “Goldilocks” sweet spot: neither so hot that water evaporates, nor so cold that it freezes solid.

But liquid water is not the only essential ingredient for the emergence of life.

An atmosphere is also required, and on that score the researchers are still in the dark. It all depends, they say, on how Proxima b evolved as a planet.

“You can come up with formation scenarios that end up with and Earth-like atmosphere, a Venus-like atmosphere” — 96 percent carbon dioxide — “or no atmosphere at all,” said co-author Ansgar Reiners, an expert on “cold” stars at the University of Goettingen’s Institute of Astrophysics in Germany.

Computer models suggest the planet’s temperature, with an atmosphere, could be “in the range of minus 30 Celsius on the dark side, and 30C on the light side,” Reiners said.

Like the Moon in relation to Earth, Proxima b is “tidally locked,” with one face always exposed to its star and the other perpetually in shadow.

Emerging life forms would also have to cope with ultraviolet and X-rays bombarding Proxima b 100 times more intensely than on Earth.

Search for life

An atmosphere would help deflect these rays, as would a strong magnetic field.

But even high doses of radiation do not preclude life, especially if we think outside the box, scientists say.

“We have to be very open-minded as to what we call ‘life’,” Jean Schneider, an expert on exoplanets at the Observatoire de Paris, said.

Last year, NASA unveiled Kepler 452b, a planet about 60 percent larger than Earth that could have active volcanoes, oceans, sunshine like ours, and a year lasting 385 days.

But at a distance of 1,400 light-years, humankind would have little hope of reaching this Earth-twin any time soon.

By comparison, Proxima b is a stone’s throw away, though still too far away for humans to visit with present-generation chemical rockets.

“This is a dream for astronomers if we think about follow up observations,” said Reiners.

Uranus: Smells Like Rotten Eggs And Has Temperature Of Negative 328F

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

 

 SPACE

If the Rotten Egg Smell Doesn’t Kill You, the Negative 200°C Temperature of Uranus Will

New research suggests the atmosphere of Uranus is largely comprised of hydrogen sulfide, which gives rotten eggs their repulsive smell.

 

PUBLISHED ON 04/25/2018
7:04 AM EDT
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