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Astronomers spot strange six-tailed asteroid

Astronomers spot strange six-tailed asteroid 88

Nasa astronomers have announced the discovery of a “weird and freakish object” by the Hubble telescope – the first ever six-tailed asteroid, found spinning through space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

“We were literally dumbfounded when we saw it,” said David Jewitt, lead investigator on the project and professor at the University of California. “Even more amazing, its tail structures change dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust. That also caught us by surprise. It’s hard to believe we’re looking at an asteroid.”

Whilst comets are well-known for their tails -trails of vaporized dust and water, thrown off from the ice-coated objects as they pass through solar winds – rocky-bodied asteroids do not produce any trace and previously only been spotted as single points of light.

Although the astronomers do not have a clear answer of why the object, designated P/2013 P5, has six-tails, they have speculated that its rate of rotation may have reached the point where it starts disintegrating.

What could have caused P/2013 P5 to begin spinning so violently is also unknown. Impact with another asteroid has been ruled out, as this event would have created a large amount of dust from the impact.

It was first spotted as “unusually fuzzy-looking object” by the Pan-STARRS survey telescope in Hawaii and on further investigation its multiple tails were identified by images from the Hubble space telescope on 10 September.

However, when Hubble took a second look on 23 September they found its appearance had changed. “We were completely knocked out,” said Jewitt.

Astronomers spot strange six-tailed asteroid 89

Images from the Hubble telescope on the 10th and 23rd of September, showing how the tails of the asteroid have spun “like a rotating lawn sprinkler.” Image credit: Hubble.

Computer modelling of the asteroid by Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany suggested that the tails could have been created by a series of ‘dust-ejection events’.

Approximately 100 to 1,000 tonnes of dust have been lost from the asteroid via these tails, though the main body of the object is estimated to be many thousand times more massive than this, measuring around 1,400 feet across.

Jewitt and Agarwal have hypothesised that the unusual asteroid might be the first sighting of a ‘dying’ asteroid, suggesting that its rotational force will continual to tear away at its bulk until it is too small to be considered an asteroid.

“This is just an amazing object to us, and almost certainly the first of many more to come,” said Jewitt. “In astronomy, where you find one, you eventually find a whole bunch more.”

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Space

Astronomers have recorded more than a thousand mysterious round spots. What could they be?

Astronomers have recorded more than a thousand mysterious round spots. What could they be? 90
Discovery in astronomy (Photo: Ray Norris)

Astronomers at Australia’s ASKAP radio telescope complex have reported that they have discovered strange circles of radio emission in space. According to their characteristics, they do not fit into any of the known types of objects. 

The research results have been prepared for publication in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia and are available at arXiv.org.

Astronomers have recorded more than a thousand mysterious round spots. What could they be? 91
© Ray P. Norris et al., 2020
ORC (Odd Radio Circles) – “strange radio circles” detected by the ASKAP telescope

In late 2019, the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope complex – one of the most sensitive in the world – detected three strange circular objects while collecting data to compile an Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU).

The circles of radio emission hung in the sky like cosmic smoke rings. Astronomers have called them “Odd Radio Circles” or “Orcs” (ORC).

“A couple of years ago I predicted that this exploration of the unknown would lead to unexpected discoveries, which I called WTF. But none of us expected to find something so unexpected and so quickly, ” writes the author of the new discovery, Professor of Western Sydney University Ray Norris.

At first, scientists thought that these were artifacts caused by errors in software processing, but soon the reality of the Orcs was confirmed by other radio telescopes. Astronomers have never found anything like this before. Objects are only visible in radio waves and not detectable in X-ray, optical or infrared ranges.

Researchers from the EMU project examined the entire volume of ASKAP data and found many more radio circles. The authors estimate that there are about a thousand ORCs in the sky.

So far, scientists only make assumptions about the possible origin of mysterious objects. It is not known even at what distance from the Earth they are – in our Galaxy or far in the Universe. Accordingly, their size is also unknown – preliminary analysis showed that the diameter of the found SRCs is several light years if they are in our galaxy, and several million light years if they are in deep space.

“When analyzing the position of the SRC with the help of optical telescopes, we see nothing. The radio emission rings are likely caused by clouds of electrons, but why can’t we see anything at the visible wavelengths of light? We don’t yet know the answer to this, but finding such a puzzle is every astronomer’s dream,” Ray Norris, professor at the University of Western Sydney explains.

In their article, the authors list what exactly these strange radio circles cannot be. According to the researchers, these are not supernova remnants – they are located far from most of the stars in the Milky Way, and there are too many of them.

These are not regions of star formation, as there are no galaxies nearby.

It is unlikely that these are the “petals” of radio galaxies, created by jets of electrons escaping from the vicinity of a supermassive black hole – orcs are distinctly round, in contrast to the entangled clouds of radio galaxies.

They are also not like Einstein’s rings , in which radio waves from a distant galaxy bend into a circle under the action of the gravitational field of a cluster of galaxies – the radio circles are too symmetric and they do not have a cluster in the center.

Scientists are now looking around the world for radio telescopes that could continue observing strange radio circles in order to ultimately find an answer to the question of their origin.

“It’s not an easy job because the signals from the ORC are very weak and hard to find. Our team is brainstorming, hoping for a eureka moment when one of us, or perhaps someone else, suddenly has a flash of insight that will solve the riddle, “said the first author of the article, Ray Norris in an interview with The Conversation.” This is an exciting time for us. Most astronomical research is aimed at refining our knowledge of the Universe or testing theories. Very rarely we have to stumble upon a new type of object that no one has seen before, and try to figure out what it is. “

As a working version, scientists suggest that the strange radio circles are shock waves from explosions in distant galaxies, fast radio bursts, or collisions of a neutron star and a black hole.

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In 2021, the Moon will host a car race driven by schoolchildren

In 2021, the Moon will host a car race driven by schoolchildren 92
MAPP project

In 2021, a remote controlled rover race will take place on the lunar surface. At the same time, the development of these cars will be carried out by the famous auto designer Frank Stephenson, who worked with BMW, Ferrari and other whales of the automotive business, and … schoolchildren. Such an amazing statement was made by representatives of the Moon Mark project.

On October 11, 2021, the launch of the Nova-C device, developed by Intuitive Machines, is planned. This probe is slated to land softly on the surface of Selene in the Ocean of Storms.

If successful, it will be the first soft-landing probe designed and manufactured by a private company (not with private money, though).

Nova-C is capable of delivering up to one hundred kilograms of payload to the moon. Most of it is NASA’s scientific instruments, which funded the project. By the way, NASA allocated $ 77 million for the creation and launch of the spacecraft . However, the contract stipulates a certain payload limit, which Intuitive Machines has the right to spend at its discretion.

And eight kilograms of this limit will be allocated to … racing rovers from the Moon Mark company. Each vehicle will weigh 2.5 kilograms, and another three kilograms will be a system for deploying them on the surface of Selena.

This is a very extravagant decision (although how is it worse than sending a car on an interplanetary trip by Elon Musk ?).

Recall that over the past 40 years there have been only five attempts at soft landing on the moon. Of these, two ( Israeli and Indian ) ended in failure. And now it turns out that 8% of the space on the device flying to Selena (and the cost of this 8%, based on the project budget, will amount to more than $ 6 million) will be spent on entertainment for children.

In this place, any scientist who for decades dreamed of delivering his device to the moon for certain scientific research could start banging his head against the wall.

In 2021, the Moon will host a car race driven by schoolchildren 93
Schoolchildren will take part in the design of future rovers. Illustration by Moon Mark.

But the project developers have their own reasons. The race will attract the attention of society to space exploration, and above all of the younger generation. But these are future astronomers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and also voters and even politicians. If today’s children light up with the dream of exploring the Universe, and then carry it into their hearts into their adult life, then this $ 6,000,000 (by the way, not such a large amount by the standards of modern astronautics) will turn out not to be a reckless waste, but a very profitable investment in the future of humanity.

What will this project look like in practice? The lunar surface races will be the main prize of the Moon Mark’s Mission 1 competition, which will feature six teams of high school students. Schoolchildren will compete in drone races, space mission design and other fun things.

The two winning teams will receive the right to operate the racing moon rovers (from Earth, of course). But first, they will take part in their development. The chassis, controls and other important systems will of course be designed by specialists.

It is known for certain that the schoolchildren will work out the body design (here the famous Frank Stevenson will help them). This is also not an easy task. After all, the body must protect the device from damage in accidents and save it from the ubiquitous moon dust. In addition, when designing it, the mass distribution and many other technical parameters must be taken into account.

The prototype of the racing lunar rovers will be the MAPP project from the Lunar Outpost company (it is covered in more detail in the video below). True, the concept will have to be finalized, because the MAPP devices weigh 10 kilograms and move at a speed of only 360 meters per hour, which is by no means dizzying.

Note that the actual pace of the races is a separate issue. The speed of future rovers has not yet been announced. However, the radio signal takes 1.3 seconds to reach the moon and the same time to return. It is unlikely that this way you can control something really fast in real time.

The route of future races is also yet to be laid.

“There is a trail that designs Hermann Tilke, who designed all the latest track,” Formula 1 “around the world” – says Stevenson material New Atlas.

Of course, the path will not be marked in any way on the lunar surface. Perhaps the route will be shown as a line on the screens where young operators will follow the movement of their vehicles.

In any case, the feast of technical thought will not be long. The Nova-C device is not equipped with heaters, which means that the life of its entire payload is one lunar day (about two Earth weeks).

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In December, Earth’s inhabitants will be able to see a rare cosmic phenomenon

In December, Earth's inhabitants will be able to see a rare cosmic phenomenon 94

At the end of the year, astronomers expect to see a rare cosmic phenomenon dubbed the “Christmas star” in the sky. It will be caused by the fact that Saturn and Jupiter come close to each other at a minimum distance and almost collide to become one super-bright point of light.

These two planets became one straight line in the solar system a few weeks ago, but at the end of December they will be on it for observers from Earth. This will happen on December 21, 2020, on the day of the winter solstice, when the daylight hours are the shortest and the night is the longest. Jupiter and Saturn will look like a “double planet” for the first time since the Middle Ages, Forbes writes.

“The conjunctions of the two planets are extremely rare, but this particular conjunction is especially rare because the planets will be very close to each other,” Patrick Hartigan, astronomer at Rice University, USA said. “In order to observe a closer conjunction of these planets in the night sky, we would have to return on March 4, 1226.”

It is noted that the unusual celestial phenomenon can be observed from anywhere on the planet. The main thing is that the sky is clear. The “Christmas Star” can be seen in the western sky about an hour after sunset when viewed from the northern hemisphere.

“On the evening of their closest approach, December 21, they will appear as a twin planet, separated by less than 1/5 the diameter of the full moon,” Hartigan said. “For most amateur astronomers looking at the night sky through a telescope, both planets and several of their largest satellites will be in the same field of view this evening.”

In December, Earth's inhabitants will be able to see a rare cosmic phenomenon 95

Those who want to see Jupiter and Saturn converge in the sky as close, but will be higher above the horizon, will have to wait until March 15, 2080, Hartigan said. After that, a similar configuration for this planetary pair will not be observed until 2400.

Astronomers are already preparing equipment to analyze in detail the upcoming event. Everything is very serious, because the second such rapprochement between Jupiter and Saturn cannot be expected.

Of course, there will not be a collision of planets. You just get the impression that something terrible is about to happen in the solar system. Astronomers have assured that there is no reason to worry.

Is the “Christmas Star” an omen of things to come? Mark your calendars! 

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