Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR Radar images of asteroid 1998 QE2 reveal that the large space rock that's nearing Earth has its own satellite orbiting around it. The pictures were captured a couple days ago by the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California. NASA has been tracking the asteroid since its initial discovery in August of 1998, but only recently discovered it had its own bright little moon.
The binary asteroid's primary body is estimated to be about 1.7 miles across while its orbiting satellite is estimated to be about 2000 feet wide. Only about 16 percent of the near-Earth asteroids larger than 200 meters in size are binary or triple systems, making them a fairly rare occurrence. By measuring the tiny moon's orbit, scientists can calculate the mass and density of the larger asteroid body, which can range from being a chunk of solid rock to a pile of rubble held together by gravity.
Thanks to these radar images, NASA scientists led by Marina Brozovic of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, are able to more accurately estimate 1998 QE2's characteristics and behaviors, such as the length its rotational period (about 4 hours), its size, shape, and surface features, as well as provide a more precise calculation of the system's orbit around the Earth.
Data and resolution will improve as the asteroid reaches its closest approach to Earth around 3pm (CDT) this afternoon. No need to worry, though, the binary asteroid will be a safe 3.6 million miles away and won't get any closer in the next two hundred years.
After months of analysis, NASA has posted this ScienceCasts report of a large meteoroid impact on the Moon on March 17, 2013. Lunar impacts aren't uncommon - hundreds occur each year - but this one was the brightest flash recorded in the eight year span of the agency's lunar monitoring program. NASA estimates that a 40 kg space rock slamming into the Mare Imbrium region caused the visible-to-the-naked-eye explosion. The bright flash wasn't produced by combustion - the Moon has no atmosphere - but by the glow of hot vapors and molten lunar rock heated up by the tremendous kinetic force of the impact.
Courtesy NASA (via Zonu.com)Back in 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were making their historic moonwalk, I remember thinking to myself, what would happen if some kind of malfunction on the Lunar Module prevented them from blasting off the Moon's surface back to the Command and Service Module? They would most certainly die, there's no doubt about that, because NASA had no rescue plan in place. But what about Michael Collins, the Command Module pilot who was orbiting the Moon in the mother ship? He was waiting to take his fellow crew members home to Earth. If they didn't show up, he'd be in for a pretty lonely and agonizing three-day trip across the quarter-million miles of empty space back to Earth. I wondered what that would have been like.
Fortunately, Apollo 11 was a tremendous success and all three astronauts made it back safely, as did the 18 Apollo astronauts who followed in their footsteps (including the ill-fated Apollo 13 astronauts), so the tragic scenario never played out.
Courtesy NASABut what would that have been like? Astronaut Al Worden probably came closest to experiencing the profound loneliness of isolation in ourter space, when he was piloting the Command Module for the Apollo 15 mission. While his crew mates were busy walking (and driving!) on the Moon's surface, Worden was circling overhead - all by himself - for 3 days. At times, when his craft disappeared behind the far side of the Moon, he had no communications with anyone - not even Mission Control - and was thousands of miles away from his colleagues, and hundreds of thousands of miles away from any other human beings. He holds the record for being the "most isolated human being" ever.
You might think it must have been an anxious time for the solo astronaut, but his story, which can be found here, might just surprise you.
Hold it there just a second, the reports earlier today that Voyager I has left the solar system may be a bit premature. NASA's team following the spacecraft say that they don't consider it to be outside of the influence of our Sun just yet. Confusing? You can read more about the official NASA position on this matter right here.
Courtesy NASATo paraphrase Capt. Kirk, we've now gone boldly where no one has gone before. After 35 years and 11 billion miles of travel, NASA's Voyager I spacecraft has officially left our solar system. Measuring instruments on the craft no longer defect the movement of solar wind, which is the movement of particles influenced by energy released by our Sun, around Voyager I. Following not too far behind is Voyager II, which as covered about 9.5 billion miles. You can learn more about the milestone by clicking here.
UPDATE: Wait a second, NASA isn't agreeing with this analysis on Voyager I's location. You can read more about this brewing science controversy here. Does Pluto have anything to do with this?
The flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14 on Feb. 15, 2013, will be the closest known approach to Earth for an object its size, but there is no chance it will hit Earth.
The Mars rover, Curiosity, has made an historic drilling into rock on the surface of Mars. The feat is a first in planetary exploration.
"This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America," said John Grotizinger, the mission's lead scientist.“
The next step is to have the extracted gray powdered rock analyzed by Curiosity's on-board laboratory to determine the sample's chemistry and mineralogy,
Got a spare two minutes? Watch this amazing composite photography made by NASA of Earth at night.
Courtesy NASA Ames/Chris McKay Scientists working at the bottom of the world have discovered a hardy strain of bacteria living comfortably in a salty lake buried under 20 meters of ice in East Antartica.
The body of water, called Lake Vida, is nearly 3000 years old and might as well be situated on one of Jupiter’s moons. It’s by no means a vacation destination. Sunlight no longer reaches it. The bacteria living in it survive in a pitch-black environment, with sub-freezing temperatures, and in waters that contain seven times the amount of salt found in seawater,
"Lake Vida is a model of what happens when you try to freeze a lake solid, and this is the same fate that any lakes on Mars would have gone through as the planet turned colder from a watery past," says co-leader Peter Doran of the University of Illinois, Chicago. Scientists from NASA, the Desert Research Institute in Reno, and several other institutions make up the expedition team.
The microorganisms belong to a species new to science. They thrive in a briny mix rich in hydrogen, nitrous oxide, and carbon - not exactly your normal chemical stew for gracious living – but somehow the bacteria manage to extract energy from the concoction. The researchers think the high salt content interacting with minerals in lake sediments may be responsible for the unusual chemistry.
The discovery of life in Lake Vida could help in our search for life on other planets or beneath the surfaces of their icy moons.
"This system is probably the best analog we have for possible ecosystems in the subsurface waters of Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa," said Chris McKay, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, and co-author of the paper published online recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.
Other subsurface lakes in Antarctica are also under investigation, Lake Vostok, which I posted about previously, and Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica. Both lakes are millions of years older, and buried under kilometers of ice rather than just meters. It will be interesting to see if some form of life can manage to survive in those even more extreme conditions.
NASA scientists announced today that analysis of a soil sample scooped up by the Mars rover, Curiosity, and analyzed by its on-board lab shows evidence of organic compounds. However, whether the organics are indigenous to Mars or were brought by the rover to the Red Planet from Earth has not yet been determined, so NASA is keeping the excitement level subdued for the moment. The announcement was made today at a press conference at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, California.
Wired magazine story