From time to time, as relevant images about minor objects currently in the news become available from observers or from public news sources, we include one with a brief caption at the top of our daily news. This page catalogs the images posted this year along with their captions and links. (Jump to this year's latest.)
First observations from the WISE infrared space telescope were reported yesterday with its January 12th discovery of asteroid 2010 AB78. Due to fixed pointing from polar orbit along Earth's day-night terminator, immediate ground-based confirmation of coming WISE discoveries will be critical. Illustration courtesy of the WISE mission.
WISE has a second asteroid discovery, 2009 AG79 announced here. In this earlier infrared imagery, first discovery 2010 AB78 shows red against background stars. Queried about whether this was the first asteroidal object discovered from space, Gareth Williams at the IAU Minor Planet Center noted to A/CC that that milestone belongs to WISE's predecessor IRAS, which discovered Main Belter 3728 IRAS (1983 QF) and NEO 3200 Phaeton (1983 TB) a quarter century ago. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
HubbleSite reported yesterday that Hubble Space Telescope images from last week of comet-like object P/2010 A2 (the bright point at lower left) "suggest a head-on collision between two asteroids" in the Main Belt. See also David Jewitt's P/2010A (LINEAR) page and today's latest astrometry. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA).
The Cornell Chronicle reports that last month Arecibo radar found 2005 YU55 to be about 400 meters in diameter. Good to know, considering that 1) the original estimate from optical observation was on the order of 143 meters and 2) this object is coming back in 18 months, passing closer than the Moon. Fortunately, Arecibo's observations eliminated all 2005 YU55 impact possibilities for the next hundred years. Image credit: NASA/Cornell/Arecibo.
NASA JPL reports that the WISE wide-field infrared telescope operating in Earth polar orbit has been discovering asteroids at the rate of "about a hundred a day" since January, mostly in the Main Belt but including "more than 50" total near Earth, and "has also bagged about a dozen new comets." Credit: January image of M3 with comet C/2008 Q3 (Garradd), NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE.
It was reported yesterday that the U.S.-German joint NASA-DLR SOFIA airborne observatory saw (nighttime in-flight) first light on May 26th. These images of the 2.5-meter, 17-ton infrared telescope and the much modified Boeing 747SP aircraft are credited to NASA/Dryden, Tom Tschida from May 20th (left) and Jim Ross from April 14th this year.
Anthony Wesley in New South Wales, Australia reported yesterday on IceInSpace.com.au that "at approximately 20:30utc this morning I recorded a large fireball on Jupiter." This is the same amateur who discovered an impact plume on Jupiter one year ago next month. That event was followed up by many observers, including with the Hubble Space Telescope, about which a news item was coincidentally released yesterday. SpaceWeather.com is reporting that Christopher Go in the Philippines also recorded the flash. Image from Anthony Wesley from 2031:29 UTC (north is up, tilted).
A new study announced yesterday (also here) argues that "more than 90 percent of the observed Oort cloud comets have an extra-solar origin" (acquired from neighboring stellar nursery protoplanetary disks). One probable Oort Cloud object is 1P/Halley, seen here between background star trails as its dark inactive nucleus was outward bound seven years ago at 28.06 times Earth's distance from the Sun. Credit ESO, observation by Olivier Hainaut with three 8-meter telescopes for three nights at Cerro Paranal in Chile to capture Halley at magnitude V=28.2.
The Japanese Hayabusa asteroid sample return mission arrived late yesterday evening over Woomera, Australia (1351 UTC). Its small re-entry capsule is the bright point at lower right while the trailing larger spacecraft destructs, hitting the atmosphere at the superorbital speed of natural meteors. Image by staff and students of the Clay Center Observatory aboard a NASA aircraft, posted by NASA/Ames' observing campaign. BBC has a report today on the successful capsule recovery, and [new] also see this. Read more from earlier here and here.
The European Space Agency yesterday previewed the coming July 10th Rosetta flyby of Main Belt asteroid 21 Lutetia, which the mission studied distantly in January 2007. This object's properties are poorly understood but it is considerably larger than Main Belter 2867 Steins, flown past in September 2008. These two Rosetta OSIRIS shots of Steins are similar enough to "free view" (defocus your eyes and let the two fuse into a third) in 3D. ©Copyright 2008 ESA.
First noticed at Emily Lakdawalla's Planetary Society Blog yesterday is that Japan's space agency has posted images of successful solar sail deployment by its Ikaros spacecraft, which was launched last month into heliocentric orbit. The sail is 20 meters across diagonally and 0.0075mm thick. This is a technology test for a proposed mission to explore Jupiter Trojan asteroids. Image ©copyright 2010 JAXA.
The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy announced June 16th that "The world became a slightly safer place on May 13, when the Pan-STARRS 1 (PS1) telescope in Hawaii started surveying the sky for killer asteroids" (see also partner news here, here, and here, and see PS1 Status Reports for some details). This photo by Rob Ratkowski shows PS1 atop Haleakala before sunrise with distant Mauna Kea. New: We note that the most recent published PS1 observations are from late February, appearing in the March 26th DOU MPEC. Andrea Milani addressed the PS1 NEO productivity issue today on the Minor Planet Mailing List (MPML).
Yes, we have NO impact plume. That's this past week's report from the Hubble Space Telescope, which followed up the amateur-observed June 3rd event. Probably "a giant meteor burning up high above Jupiter's cloud tops ... best guess [is that these] smallest detectable events may happen as frequently as every few weeks." Image credit: NASA, ESA, and observers.
No longer just a point of light, Main Belt asteroid 21 Lutetia today becomes the largest asteroid yet visited as the Rosetta mission flies past. For more info about flyby progress and resources, see the Rosetta blog. This image is from the OSIRIS imaging system Narrow Angle Camera yesterday when 2 million km. from the target, ©copyright ESA 2010.
Of 243,553 numbered minor objects, this is number 21: Main Belt asteroid Lutetia, which was discovered from a Paris apartment balcony in 1852 and was flown past yesterday by the Rosetta comet mission. Credit: ESA OSIRIS team.
This montage by Emily Lakdawalla, in its large full version with or without text, shows the image and relative size of every asteroid and comet visited by space missions to date -- eight solitary asteroids, one asteroid with a satellite, and four comet nuclei. The big rock is the just visited Main Belter, 21 Lutetia, and the smallest object, NEO 25143 Itokawa, doesn't show in this thumbnail. Credit: Numerous NASA and ESA space missions and imaging teams.
There's a new hole in the Moon, shown this week by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Camera team, apparently one of five such discoveries mentioned in a July 27th Nature News report. This ten-meter crater on the northeast edge of Mare Tranquillitatis on the Moon's near side appeared between the August 1971 Apollo 15 image (left) and LRO's September 2009 image. NASA has had a program involving amateur observers since 2005 watching for such impacts (PDF with 200+ candidates). See also news from last September about fresh Mars craters. Credit: NASA/GSFC/ASU LRO Camera.
NASA JPL reported yesterday that the WISE infrared space telescope is warming up after depleting coolant and has lost its most sensitive detector. But, after last month completing its primary mission to map the entire sky, there is still enough coolant left to map perhaps half the sky again. Illustration courtesy of the WISE mission.
Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo this week reported their discovery of the first known trailing Neptune Trojan, 2008 LC18, using the Japanense Subaru 8.3-meter telescope on Mauna Kea to watch for such objects traversing a dark dusty area against the bright galactic background. They previously discovered half of the six known Neptune leading Trojans, and predict that there are more large bodies in this L4/L5 population than in the Main Asteroid Belt. Image courtesy of the discoverers.
No Vulcanoids yet, the Messenger mission reported yesterday. The spacecraft, which launched six years ago and goes into orbit around Mercury next March, has been engaged in a multi-perihelion campaign to find a theoretical population of asteroids between Mercury and the Sun. See more info here. This May 6th image of the Earth-Moon system comes from that search. Credit NASA/JHUAL/CIW (NASA, Johns Hopkins Univ. Applied Physics Laboratory, and Carnegie Inst. of Washington).
This Hubble Space Telescope image of 4 Vesta is from May three years ago. In May of next year the ion-propelled Dawn spacecraft will begin maneuvering to be captured into orbit around Vesta, bringing the second largest Main Belt object into sharp view by July. See Science@NASA's preview report from yesterday. Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. McFadden, and G. Bacon.
There may have been another Jupiter impact, caught by amateur observer Masayuki Tachikawa in Japan around 1822 UT on August 20th. See Emily Lakdawalla's report for more info and links. Sky & Telescope reports no debris plume has been spotted during two subsequent Jupiter rotations, but corroboration has come from two other event observers in Japan. Image courtesy of M. Tachikawa (Ganymede at lower right, north is up).
It was reported yesterday that, in the course of a "warm mode" program to survey NEO physical characteristics via infrared, the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) has found "a surprisingly wide array of compositions" among the first 100 of 700 objects planned (about 10% of the known population). Artwork credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt.
Today the small asteroids 2010 RF12 and 2010 RX30 are flying through the Earth-Moon system. See A/CC's news links for more info and a larger illustration. Illustration credit: NASA/JPL.
Postscript: There were actually an unprecedented three intruders, including 2010 RK53, all inside the Earth-Moon system for about six and half hours on September 8th.
A first image of thousands planned for comet 103P/Hartley 2 was shown yesterday from when the Deep Impact Flyby spacecraft on its extended EXPOXI mission was still further from its November 4th target than the comet was from Earth (more info here). 103P is seen at center (north to the lower right) at 1334 UTC on September 5th, credit NASA/JPL/UM.
Lockheed Martin has a proposal called "Plymouth Rock" for an asteroid mission with two astronauts and its Orion spacecraft (LM, NASA) doubled up. A company June white paper (8Mb PDF) concludes that "the first visits to asteroids can be ... within a decade, using spacecraft already being developed and tested." Page 39 advocates better funding for NEO astronomy to reduce mission costs by finding more favorable destinations. See recent news here and here, plus an NEO exploration workshop. Illustration credit: Lockheed Martin.
Nature News reported Wednesday about NASA's planetary defense ad-hoc task force and potential problems if the NEO discovery rate "grows but precision tracking of orbits lags behind." Mentioned as coming NEO space telescopes are Canada's NEOSSat (above), now scheduled for 2011 launch, and Germany's AsteroidFinder (planned for 2013, see a March 19th article), both in Earth polar terminator orbits (like WISE, but visual band with flexible pointing), as well as the idea of a NASA infrared telescope in a Venus-like orbit. Illustration credit: Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
News items Thursday from NASA and Sandia Lab revisited amateur-discovered Jupiter impacts, mainly this year's June 3rd and August 20th fireballs (middle and right above), but also last year's July 9th impact plume (left). One conclusion is that fireballs might be visible "a few times each month." Image credits: left Anthony Wesley and middle to right Wesley and Masayuki Tachikawa.
This past Monday, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii hailed the first Pan-STARRS' PHO discovery, noting that 2010 ST3 has one (highly preliminary) impact solution in the year 2098, and commenting that Pan-STARRS, which has been online for months, "is now the most sensitive system dedicated to discovering potentially dangerous asteroids." The discovery was reported nine days earlier in MPEC 2010-S20. Image credit: PS1C.
The Los Angeles Times has an article from yesterday about repairs to NASA/JPL's Goldstone 70-meter dish antenna in southern California known as Deep Space Station 14, which, among many other tasks, is a critically important asteroid radar observatory. It reports that "Plans are underway for a system using much smaller dishes [in clusters to] eventually replace the antenna." Image credit: NASA/JPL Planetary Radar Group.
NASA/JPL reported yesterday that the WISE infrared space telescope "has reached the expected end of its onboard supply of frozen coolant" but will continue observing in two bands for "one to four months" at a warmer instrument temperature to study asteroids and comets. (See also this.) The false-color four-band image here from April 24th shows comet 65P/Gunn traveling along its own dust trail. A few asteroids are also visible. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.
Although visual observers have only recently started reporting a hint of a tail for brightening (and soon to be visited) 103P/Hartley 2, this WISE space telescope false-color infrared image from back on May 10th, released yesterday, shows a tail as well as the comet's dust trail. The Hubble Space Telescope also has a 103P image posted yesterday from September 25th. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.
Trundling across Mars toward its next destination last month, MER Opportunity happened upon a reported nickel-iron meteorite now named Oilean Ruaidh. See more images here (e.g., Panoramic Camera for Sol 2368, 2369, and 2371). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ.
This stereo pair of the half-meter-long iron-nickle meteorite, Oilean Ruaidh, gives a different view from that yesterday, all from MER Opportunity on Mars. Note the rover's tracks in the background. See larger images and a 3D anaglyph version here, and some raw frames here and here. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ.
The Hubble Space Telescope took another look at 4 Vesta's rotation on February 28th to help planning for Dawn's approach next July. A news release yesterday has images plus an illustration showing the Main Belt's second largest object to scale with our Moon. Also this past week, the Planetary Science Institute told about studying "the [complex] dynamics of the Dawn spacecraft as it orbits the large Arizona-sized, non-spherical asteroid" (preprint), done with open-source software. Credit: NASA, ESA, Li & McFadden.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) often spots small impact candidates that have formed since photo surveys began. One such site was reported last week. Another recently released HiRISE image is this of a fresh impact crater (new between April 2004 and January 2010) about six meters wide that appears to reveal shiny subsurface ice. See related images and info here and here. Credit: NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona.
Watch out, cross traffic ahead! Discovered yesterday by the Mt. Lemmon Survey, tiny 2010 TD54 will cross Earth's orbit tomorrow, passing from outside to inside by flying right between the Earth and Moon. Credit: NASA/JPL NEO Program Office orbit viewer.
Today small asteroid 2010 TD54 flies harmlessly through the Earth-Moon system, something estimated to occur daily, though usually unnoticed. Credit: NASA/JPL.
CU-Boulder and the New Horizons Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission announced this week that the school's Lab for Atmospheric and Space Physics' (LASP) Student Dust Counter (SDC) is not only "the first student-built and -operated science instrument ever sent on a planetary space mission," but at 18 AU also "now holds the record for the most distant working dust detector" (data viewer). SDC external hardware (30.5 x 45.7cm) image credit: NASA, JHUAPL, and SwRI.
It was announced yesterday that Hubble Space Telescope observations of P/2010 A2 (LINEAR) from January to May this year indicate that, among possible explanations, it is probably the result of a collision between "modest-sized asteroids" in the Main Belt in early 2009. See also February news links. The small point of light at left in this May 29th image seems to be the largest remnant. Credit: NASA, ESA, and David Jewitt.
This week the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) reported that, by combining Earth-based observations with March observation from the Rosetta spacecraft from "well beyond the orbit of Mars," they "could pinpoint the date of the [P/2010 A2 (LINEAR)] collision to a window of ten days around February 10th, 2009." See more info yesterday. Credit: ESA and MPS OSIRIS camera team.
KRQE-TV in Albuquerque, N.M. ran a report this past week reiterating the call, for "more money, attention, and telescopes [for] finding small asteroids," from researcher Mark Boslough, seen here with a Tunguska impact supercomputer simulation in a 2007 photo by Randy Montoya, courtesy of Sandia National Labs, which has more info, movies, and a PDF poster from that time. See also a PDF and video from Boslough's April 2009 talk at New Mexico Tech.
The New Horizons mission reported yesterday that "Sunday, Oct. 17, at 3:24 Universal Time, we passed the halfway mark in the number of days from launch to Pluto encounter," which will be in July 2015. Upcoming team activities include using large telescopes to seach for Kuiper Belt objects near the path of the spacecraft, which might also encounter Nepune Trojans. Image credit: NASA New Horizons.
Comet SOHO-1932 was first reported October 19th by amateur Bo Zhou in China from viewing NASA/ESA SOHO frames online. This is one of the last images as the likely Kreutz family member disappeared behind the C2 coronagraph disk on its way into the Sun. Image from 0824 UTC October 21st, courtesy of NASA/ESA.
Arecibo reported yesterday that the giant antenna in Puerto Rico had imaged comet 103P/Hartley 2 by radar at 150-meter resolution during 24-27 October, finding "the nucleus to be a highly elongated, bilobate object with a long-axis dimension of at least 2.2 km," and also studied its rotation and large-grain inner coma. Good info for the EPOXI mission with the Deep Impact spacecraft flying by the comet on November 4th. Credit NAIC-Arecibo/Harmon-Nolan, selected frames at twice pixel size.
Today the EPOXI mission Deep Impact spacecraft is flying past comet 103P/Hartley 2, which is seen here in its March 1986 discovery image, digitized from the photographic plate on which it was found by Malcolm Hartley, as retold this week in a NASA/JPL news release. Credit: AAO/Siding Spring.
The EPOXI mission Deep Impact spacecraft flew past the comet 103P/Hartley 2 nucleus yesterday and caught some spectacular views, including this from 1400:56 UTC. See descriptions here and here, and an animation. Credit: NASA/JPL/UM.
2006 imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope of 136199 Eris (2003 UB313) seemed to reinforce earlier evidence that this distant object is larger than Pluto, as reported in 2007. That has been challenged now by an Eris stellar occultation observed from Chile on November 6th which indicates that the more massive Eris has a diameter at or just under Pluto's. See more info here and here. Image credit: NASA, ESA & Mike Brown.
The University of Maryland and NASA report today that, contrary to previous belief "that water vapor from water ice was the propulsive force [it is] solar heating of subsurface frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice), directly to a gas [that] is powering the many jets of material coming from [103P/Hartley 2, something that] ground based telescopes can't detect ... and current space telescopes aren't tuned to look for." Image credit: NASA/JPL/UM.
They look like big chunks in this scanning electron microscope view of a "spatula" used to remove particles from the first of Hayabusa's two sample return compartments. Most are less than ten microns in diameter, but the excitement from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is that about 1,500 of them consist of olivine and other minerals expected to come from an asteroid such as 25143 Itokawa rather than from other places on the spacecraft's long journey (Japan and Australia). Sky & Telescope has a report. Image ©copyright JAXA.
First word came in Minor Planet Electronic Circular 2010-W10 yesterday. Brian Marsden had passed on that morning at age 73. By A/CC's count it was the 20,691st MPEC issued since the first, signed by himself in 1993, one of many innovations from his time as Director of the IAU Minor Planet Center. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reports there was a long illness; but in retirement Dr. Marsden stayed involved, posting a batch of comet MPECs only nine days ago. More: MPML, C-ML, TPS, MB, S&T, BA, GK, NS, and a 2003 article. Image credit: Harold Dorwin/CfA.
This past week the University of Maryland reported that the EPOXI Deep Impact spacecraft on November 4th passed through "a storm of fluffy particles of water ice being spewed out by carbon dioxide jets coming from the rough ends of [103P/Hartley 2, while] a different process was causing water vapor to come out of the comet's mid-section." For more info, see this, this, and also this. Image credit: NASA/JPL/UM.
NASA/JPL announced yesterday that the Stardust-NExT spacecraft fired its thrusters briefly on November 20th to adjust its flight path on the way to a February 14th rendezvous with 9P/Tempel 1 next year. This will be the second comet flyby in four months and the first-ever return visit to a small Solar-System body. Artistic rendition credit: NASA/JPL.
Science@NASA revisited a theory yesterday that most Oort cloud objects such as comet 1P/Halley (seen here in 1986) "had to have formed close to other stars and then been hijacked" by the Sun before leaving its stellar nursery. See June links and also, somewhat related, "Can the Sun's Siblings Be Found?" at Science Now. Image from Giotto, ©copyright ESA, courtesy of MPAe.
The Planetary Society has posted its list of 2010 Shoemaker NEO Grants to amateur observers -- six recipients in four countries receiving from us$1,405 to $8,000, totaling $33,285: Russell Durkee, David Higgins, Robert Holmes, Herman Mikuz, and Jaime Nomen, as well as Jupiter impacts discoverer Anthony Wesley. One of the larger grants goes to Nomen at La Sagra Observatory in Spain (above), photo courtesy of the Planetary Society.
A Southwest Research Institute item from last month reports that "before Rosetta's encounter with Lutetia, an international team of astronomers, using three of the world's largest telescopes, were busy making its own assessment of the asteroid's shape and size, as well as searching for satellites [using adaptive optics, enabling them now] to verify, validate and calibrate our method of combining AO data with light curve studies." See more info here, and compare with flyby images on ESA's 21 Lutetia page. Image credit: SwRI.
An item from NASA last month reports that a "record of an ancient meteorite impact event that is preserved in microstructures in detrital grains of quartz, zircon, and monazite" (sand) has been found near South Africa's Vredefort Dome. This "provides a new method to search for evidence of missing impacts in sedimentary rocks throughout the geologic time scale." Zircon is already an important geochronology tool. Seen here: "Cathodoluminescence (CL) image of the polished interior of a shocked zircon showing three orientations of planar fractures." Credit: The universities of Puerto Rico and Wisconsin.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser ran an AP report yesterday that the Pan-STARRS telescope group planned for Mauna Kea has been delayed "by about two years" due to mechanical problems with the prototype on Haleakala. (That instrument is seen here in a photo by Rob Ratkowski, with Mauna Kea in the distance before sunrise, courtesy of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.) This report and a Government Video article seem to indicate there are problems with funding, too.
The "giant impact" theory for Earth-Moon formation would have iron-loving (siderophile) metals drawn into the cores of the two bodies rather than remaining in the quantities actually found in their mantles. The Southwest Research Institute reports an explanation: Gold, platinum, etc. "were delivered by massive impactors during the final phase of planet formation over 4.5 billion years ago." Not nearly so old at 1.85 billion years, the huge Sudbury impact structure (the subtle ellipse in this side-looking radar imagery from NASA) has one of the world's largest deposits of nickel, a siderophile, and there are other such possible impact-deposit associations. This all brings attention to the rich potential of space resources. See also a NASA/Ames news item.
The Geminid meteor shower, which peaks overnight tomorrow, is associated with 3200 Phaethon. This activity might be explained by heating from the rocky object's close approaches to the Sun, and Science@NASA reports that an unexpected brightening was observed in June 2009 when Phaethon was observed at perihelion using STEREO coronagraph imagery (path shown above, credit NASA, Jewitt, and Li). See more info here.
Looking suddenly comet-like, there are so many questions now about 596 Scheila. Is it a Main Belt comet, not an asteroid? And is this activity, first noticed by the Catalina Sky Survey two days ago, due to an impact, such as occurred with P/2010 A2 (LINEAR), by what kind of impactor, and how long ago? The image here is from early yesterday, ©copyright 2010 Great Shefford Observatory, used with permission. See more images from observatories RAS Mayhill / Brimacombe, Remanzacco, Tzec Maun / Foglia, Vicksburg, and Xingming.
There has been a variety of explanations for the sandy "ponds" found on 433 Eros by NASA's NEAR Shoemaker mission, including outgassing and electrostatic transport. One recent paper argues for thermal-stress erosion of boulders caught in depressions. This image is from NEAR Shoemaker on 24 January 2001, credit: NASA/JHU APL.
NASA reports that, out beyond 115 AU, where only 90377 Sedna, long-period comets, and a few dozen "scattered disk" objects are known to travel, Voyager 1 has been passing through a region for several months now where solar wind speed is zero. It is believed that the heliosheath hasn't been crossed yet and interstellar space is four years' flight away. Illustration credit: NASA/JPL.
The Carnegie Institution of Washington reports that it appears the parent body from which 2008 TC3 orginated was "heated to the point of melting and then cooled into crystals so quickly that the oxygen isotopes present could not come to an equilibrium distribution throughout." This photo, courtesy of NASA/SETI, shows one fragment (of hundreds) in place where found in Sudan. See more pictures and info here, NASA has a news item, and "Fire in the Nubian Sky" is a good read.
A Planetary Science Institute (PSI) news release posted at Astrobiology.com reports that ultraviolet observation of comet C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) from the NASA Galex space telescope produced "radial profiles of atomic carbon emissions" that suggest lower carbon content in some comets than previously thought, which could affect ideas about where comets formed and their influence on life on Earth. This false-color image of C/2004 Q2 is from the Galex NUV grism in March 2005, credit NASA/JPL, U.Wash., and Jeff Morgenthaler.
National Geographic reports that, "Despite its extreme cold, [Pluto] appears to be warm enough to 'easily' have a subsurface ocean, according to a new model of the rate at which radioactive heat might still warm Pluto's core." The images here are the best available of Pluto perhaps until the New Horizons spacecraft shoots by in 2015. They were released last February after 20 computers worked simultaneously for four years to process 384 Hubble Space Telescope images from 2002 to 2003, credit NASA, ESA, and Marc Buie.
In this photo, courtesy of NASA/SETI, a line of Sudanese students awaits the signal to begin a search for remnants of asteroid 2008 TC3. Now NASA/Goddard reports that analysis of what they found, a meteorite from the Almahata Sitta strewn field, "suggests that there is more than one way to make amino acids in space [something] involving reactions in gases as a very hot asteroid cools down" after severe impact with another minor object.
New Mexico Tech reported early this month that the fast-slewing 2.4-meter telescope and its specialized camera at Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO) discovered a rotation period of about 31 seconds for tiny intruder 2010 WA. This is second only to 2010 JL88, which MRO determined last May spins once every 24.5 seconds. In this imagery, courtesy of NMT, 2010 WA was near its closest to Earth on November 16th -- at about 29,000 km. or 0.1 lunar distance. (Photometric work such as this may not serve astrometric purposes, and MRO was not among the three facilities that reported positions over a total observing span of less than 21 hours.)
Last month the University of Wisconsin at Madison reported that pieces of the Mifflin Meteorite have been added to its Geology Museum collection of meteorites from around the state and elsewhere. Mifflin Township is where fragments were found after a spectacular atmospheric event in the evening of April 14th this year (news, video). Photo by Jeff Miller, courtesy of UW-M.
In this photo, courtesy of NASA/SETI, University of Khartoum students push their bus while one of them guards a little piece of asteroid 2008 TC3 found when they exited the stuck vehicle. Among all the news about the hundreds of recovered fragments, there is this remarkable note from NASA: "ten different meteorite types have been identified ... 'even though we are certain they came from the same asteroid.'"
NASA/Goddard announced yesterday that "the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) discovered its 2000th comet," seen above as a faint spot, and mentions "an unexplained systematic increase in the number of comets around the sun." SOHO-1999 and -2000 were discovered in online images on December 26th by Marcin Kusiak, an astronomy student in Poland. Illustration credit: NASA, ESA, and Karl Battams at SOHO. (One correction: Comet 96P/Machholz was not a SOHO discovery.)
The Planetary Society has a page with multiple videos from a recent inside tour of the SOPHIA airborne observatory, and also an audio report. The images above of the aircraft and 2.5-meter infrared telescope are credited to NASA/Dryden, Tom Tschida (left), and Jim Ross from earlier this year.