October 22, 2017

Astro-Vid Of the Week: To The Asteroids & Beyond

An artist’s concept of asteroid capture.

(Credit: NASA).

We never miss a chance to catch the fascinating series of talks posted weekly on YouTube via the SETI Institute. Beyond just aliens, these thought expanding seminars cover the length and breadth of space science. Often, the talks are highly technical, but we almost always grab something out of even the advanced ones. [Read more...]

10.04.11: Towards a Brave New Decade of Space Exploration.

Artist’s concept of a Falcon Heavy liftoff. (Credit: Space X).

Earlier, this week, two news articles made their way to us via Spaceflight Now that we thought deserved some weekend editorializing in this space. On Tuesday, SpaceX announced its plans for a Falcon Heavy rocket, which could provide 3.8 million pounds of thrust to place a 58+ ton payload into low Earth orbit or a 15 ton payload much farther afield. [Read more...]

28.02.11: Pan-STARRS Sets a New Record.

While you were sleeping on the night of January 29th, 2011, astronomers both human and cyber atop Haleakala in Hawaii were on patrol. The telescope was the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), and the quarry was Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs). In one marathon night, astronomers Richard Wainscoat, David Tholen and Marco Micheli of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy bagged 19 confirmed NEAs, the most discovered in a single run.

[Read more...]

01.02.2011: NEOWISE: Mission Accomplished.

Comet 65P Gunn as captured by NEOWISE. (Credit: NASA/JPL/CALTech).

An orbiting sentinel recently completed its secondary science mission. WISE, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, recently completed an all sky survey for Near Earth Objects (NEOs). Launched in December 2009, WISE’s primary mission was an all sky survey in the infrared spectrum. [Read more...]

17.01.11: Tracking Vestoids.

Vesta: Hubble’s best…(Credit: NASA/JPL/ESA/Space Telescope Institute).

The American Association of Variable Star Observers & NASA wants YOU to assist them with the up and coming Dawn mission. Specifically, scientists are looking to characterize “Vestoids,” or Vesta-like asteroids in preparation for Dawn’s exploration of the real thing in July of this year. To this end, the AAVSO has selected three targets for amateurs to observe; 1981 Midas (1973 EA), 4688 (1980 WF) and 137052 (1998 VO33). These Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are all thought to be very similar to the asteroid Vesta, and brightness estimates may constrain sizes and compositions. [Read more...]

11.12.10: The “Quasi-Moon” of Venus.

The curious orbit of 2002 VE68. (Created with JPL’s Ephemeris Generator).

   Up until about the mid-19th century, astronomers reported spurious sightings of a moon near our sister world, Venus. These sightings were copious enough to even warrant a name, Neith. Today, most of these observations have gone the way of the Vulcan’s and second Moon of Earth sightings as curiosities, chalked up to background stars or internal reflections in antique optics. Venus has no moon… but an interesting asteroid may vie for the next closest thing.

[Read more...]

26.06.10- Pan-STARRS on Patrol.

The Pan-STARRS observatory atop Haleakala. (Credit: Rob Ratkowski).

The Pan-STARRS observatory atop Haleakala. (Credit: Rob Ratkowski).


    You can rest a little easier tonight; astronomers now have a new and powerful tool in the hunt for killer space rocks. The Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System or Pan-STARRS went online recently May 13th. Placed atop Haleakala, Pan-STARRS was constructed by engineers and astronomers at the University of Hawaii and is now owned and operated by a group of 10 institutions known collectively as the PS1 Science Consortium. The mission of Pan-STARRS is simple and straight forward; to survey the entire night sky and use sophisticated search algorithms to see if anything has moved from night to night. By rejecting known or identified objects, Pan-STARRS can go after objects of particular concern; Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) sometimes also termed Potentially Hazardous Asteroids or PHA’s. To do this, Pan-STARRS is equipped with a 60” inch diameter telescope and the largest digital camera ever built, containing a total of 1,400 megapixels. This allows it to capture a wide field area 40 times as large as the Full Moon, and it will take 500 such exposures each night. Gigantic survey projects such as Pan-STARRS pose a major challenge for data transmission and storage; Pan-STARRS will generate 4 terabytes of data per night: this will all be analyzed and archived at Maui’s High Performing Computing Center. Pan-STARRS 1 is also a forerunner to an even more ambitious project known as Pan-STARRS 4 which will be four times as powerful. Not only will Pan-STARRS discover an expected 100,000 asteroids, but it will also catalog an estimated 1 billion stars and half as many galaxies. Expect the usual complement of comets bearing the Pan-STARRS name as generally happens during any automated deep sky survey, as well as a flood of imagery just awaiting amateur perusal… I’m gonna need a faster Internet connection yet again!

2009 UN3:A (Semi-) Bright Asteroid flyby.

Path of 2009 UN3 past the bright galaxy M60 Tuesday Night! (Created in Starry Night).

Path of 2009 UN3 past the bright galaxy M60 Tuesday Night! (Created in Starry Night).


This week, a brief cosmic interloper graces our skies. Tonight, 2009 UN3 will glide silently past Earth, at a distance of 0.03667 Astronomical Units, or about 3,400,000 miles. That equates to roughly 13 times the Earth-Moon distance. Not especially close, as Near Earth Asteroids go; 2009 UN3 isn’t considered a hazard on this pass, but has been classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid, (PHA) or one that warrants watching. What is interesting about this particular asteroid is the fact that it is nearly a kilometer in size, and thus should appear moderately bright. At maximum approach, 2009 UN3 will be approximately +12 in apparent magnitude, bright enough for moderate (8” aperture or larger) scopes. Closest approach occurs at 4:48 Universal Time (UT) on the 9th, at which time the asteroid will be moving in a south to north direction through the constellation  Corvus into Virgo around Right Ascension 12h 23’ 26.0” and southern declination -08° 55’ 30”. Keep in mind, the coordinates mentioned are topocentric; with Near Earth Objects (NEOs), parallax as viewed from along the Earth’s surface comes into play. [Read more...]

12.01.10: Asteroid 2010 AL30 to Make a Close Pass Wednesday.

An interloper to the Earth-Moon system is paying us a visit tomorrow. Asteroid 2010 AL30  is gliding past us at a distance of 78,000 miles, only a little over three times the distance of the geosynchronous satellites and about one –third the Earth-Moon distance, an approach worth noting. First detected by astronomers conducting the LINEAR Near Earth Object survey on Monday, January 11th, 2010 AL30 appears to be a 10-meter class object, and its one year solar orbit raises the possibility that it may be a spent man-made object currently in orbit about the Sun. This has occurred previous, with the recovery of J002E3 in 2002, which gave away its Earthly manufacture due to the presence of titanium oxide paint (a highly un-asteroid-like coating!) in its spectral signature. Interestingly, the final stage Apollo boosters that sent men to the Moon were about 18 meters long and about 7 meters in diameter. Some objections have been raised ABOUT this hypothesis, however, because 2010 AL30’s velocity is inconsistent with a man-made object. Goldstone radar intends to monitor AL30 during its pass Wednesday, January 13th 2010. Amateur astronomers with large apertures and/or CCD imaging capability should be able to pick up AL30 as a swift moving, 14th magnitude (think faint) star gliding through the constellations Orion, Taurus, and Pisces. Chalk up another miss in the Near Earth Object category!

28.10.09:Near Earth Shenanigans.

Near Earth Objects (NEOs) have been in the news as of late, perhaps as a prelude to Halloween. First, we woke up the morning of the 17th to a near miss of 2009 TM8, an asteroid about 10 meters in diameter that passed 90% the distance of the Moon. Then just yesterday, astronomers announced that they are tracking an unknown object tentatively named 9U01FF6 that is currently in an elongated 31 day orbit about the Earth. In all likelihood, this is probably a recaptured piece of Apollo hardware; many boosters are now in Earth-crossing orbits about the Sun. But wouldn’t it be cool if we had a second natural Moon? Now, a report has come to light out of Indonesia of a possible bolide earlier this month. The video embedded above depicts a smoke trail consistent with a large meteor entering Earth’s atmosphere. The event occurred at around 03:00 UT (11:00 AM local) on October 8th; its rather mysterious that in this Age of Twitter, the report took more than two weeks to surface! Trust me, “remote” locales such as Southeast Asia are more hooked up in terms of wireless technology than much of the rural US…The event also set off 11 stations of the International Monitoring System, which gauges the atmosphere for violations of the nuclear test ban treaty. The asteroid suspect is estimated to have been 5-10 meters in diameter and produced a yield of about 30-50 kilotons. In contrast, the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was only a yield of 21 kilotons. The event was offshore and very near the coastal town of Bone, and was witnessed and recorded by the villagers as seen above. Events like this are estimated to happen once every 2-10 years, and lend credence to the hypothesis that a fairly large impactor may come in with no warning at all. And no, Virginia, this doesn’t appear to be a Latvian crater hoax this time around!

Possible Impact Tonite!

   A quick shout out; asteroid 2008 TC3 is forecast to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere early in the AM Tuesday morning over Sudan. The tiny NEO is about 10 meters in diameter, and is scheduled to burn up at about 2:46 UT on October 7th, 2008. It may put on quite a show! We here at Astroguyz composed a quick video in Starry Night and posted it at our companion Youtube site. The view in the video is from the perspective of the asteroid coming in over the night side of the Earth. The asteroid itself will be visible to the Eastern US a few hours prior to impact, but of course, weather prospects don’t look good!

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

  OK, Arthur C. Clarke merits two “great” entries.  One of my favorite authors since I was a teenager, he has the uncommon knack of making real science come alive. The scenario presented by Clarke in Rendezvous is a highly pausible one; I’d place a private bet that it would be the most likely situation if First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization was made face to face. [Read more...]