NASA Engineers Test Prototype Robotic Asteroid Capture System 

In order to better understand intricate operations and detailed planning needed to capture multi-ton boulder from asteroid surface

A prototype of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic capture module system is tested with a mock asteroid boulder in its clutches at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The robotic portion of ARM is targeted for launch in 2021. Located in the center’s Robotic Operations Center, the mockup helps engineers understand the intricate operations required to collect a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid’s surface. The hardware involved here includes three space frame legs with foot pads, two seven degrees of freedom arms that have with microspine gripper “hands” to grasp onto the boulder. NASA and students from West Virginia University built the asteroid mockup from rock, styrofoam, plywood and an aluminum endoskeleton. The mock boulder arrived in four pieces and was assembled inside the ROC to help visualize the engagement between the prototype system and a potential capture target. Inside the ROC, engineers can use industrial robots, a motion-based platform, and customized algorithms to create simulations of space operations for robotic spacecraft. The ROC also allows engineers to simulate robotic satellite servicing operations, fine tuning systems and controllers and optimizing performance factors for future missions when a robotic spacecraft might be deployed to repair or refuel a satellite in orbit. Image Credit: NASA
A prototype of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic capture module system is tested with a mock asteroid boulder in its clutches at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The robotic portion of ARM is targeted for launch in 2021.
Located in the center’s Robotic Operations Center, the mockup helps engineers understand the intricate operations required to collect a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid’s surface. The hardware involved here includes three space frame legs with footpads, two seven degrees of freedom arms that have with microspine gripper “hands” to grasp onto the boulder.
NASA and students from West Virginia University built the asteroid mockup from rock, styrofoam, plywood and an aluminum endoskeleton. The mock boulder arrived in four pieces and was assembled inside the ROC to help visualize the engagement between the prototype system and a potential capture target.
Inside the ROC, engineers can use industrial robots, a motion-based platform, and customized algorithms to create simulations of space operations for robotic spacecraft. The ROC also allows engineers to simulate robotic satellite-servicing operations, fine-tuning systems and controllers and optimizing performance factors for future missions when a robotic spacecraft might be deployed to repair or refuel a satellite in orbit.
Image Credit: NASA

Space news (Asteroid Redirect Mission: testing of prototype of robotic capture module system) – The Robotic Operations Center of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA's Asteroid Redirect Missions. Credits: NASA/Goddard
A new report provides expert findings from a special action team on how elements of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) can address decadal science objectives and help close Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKGs) for future human missions in deep space. Credits: NASA/Goddard

Inside the Robotic Operations Center (ROC) of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center engineers are at work preparing the robotic section of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The most recent work involved testing a prototype of the asteroid capture system with a mock boulder built by NASA and students from West Virginia University. This work will help engineers learn more about the intricate operations needed to capture a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid. The robotic section of ARM is targeted for a 2021 launch window.

The capability built into the ROC allows engineers to create a simulation of the capture of a boulder from the surface of an asteroid. Here they can also simulate servicing of the satellite, fine tuning of systems and controllers, and even optimize all performance factors for future repairs and refueling. An important capability when building spacecraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars and even more. One that saves money and time.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission is expected to offer benefits that should teach us more about operating in space and enable future space missions. You can read a report here on some of the expected benefits.

The report reflects the findings of a two-month study conducted by members of the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG). It explains many of ARM’s potential contributions to the future of the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

“This report is an important step in identifying ways that ARM will be more scientifically relevant as we continue mission formulation for the robotic and the crew segments,” said Gates. “We’re currently in the process of selecting hosted instruments and payloads for the robotic segment, and hope to receive an updated analysis from the SBAG after we announce those selections in spring 2017.”

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Discover and learn more about the ferocious winds near the biggest magnets discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, magnetars.

Read about NASA’s latest additions to its plans to send manned missions to Mars.

Discover and learn about the feedback mechanisms of supermassive black holes.

Learn more about NASA’s contributions to the human journey to the beginning of space and time here.

Read about NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission.

Discover NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

U.S. Congress Recognizes Right of U.S. Citizens to Own Asteroid Resources

By passing historic legislation H.R. 2262 into law

A complex asteroid mining module is required to build possible future space settlements. This mining module is fully automated and can mine and process materials ranging from metal to fiberglass to volatiles
A complex asteroid mining module is required to build possible future space settlements. This mining module is fully automated and can mine and process materials ranging from metal to fiberglass to volatiles

Space news (November 17, 2015) – U.S. House of Congress –

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law on May 20, 1862, this spurred growth in the search for gold and timber to fuel the expanding economy of the nation and opened up new frontiers for continued growth and prosperity for all. 

Now, all Americans can take part in the future asteroid bonanza on the space frontier in the decades ahead. 

On November 10, 2015, U.S. Congress passed into law bill H.R. 2262, legislation recognizing the right of Americans to own the resources contained within asteroids they claim as property. 

One 300 meter asteroid can contain more minerals than have been mined on Earth, so far.
One 300 meter asteroid can contain more minerals than have been mined on Earth, so far.

We are proud to have the support of Congress. Throughout history, governments have spurred growth in new frontiers by instituting sensible legislation. Long ago, The Homestead Act of 1862 advocated for the search for gold and timber, and today, H.R. 2262 fuels a new economy that will open many avenues for the continual growth and prosperity of humanity. This off-planet economy will forever change our lives for the better here on Earth,” said Chris Lewicki, President, and Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Planetary Resources is grateful for the leadership shown by Congress in crafting this legislation and looks forward to President Obama signing the language into law. We applaud the members of Congress who have led this effort and actively sought stakeholder input to ensure a vibrant economy and prosperous way of life now and for centuries to come. Patty Murray (D-WA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) have been unwavering in their support and leadership for the growth of the U.S. economy into the Solar System. Their forward-looking stance and active role in enabling the development of an economically and strategically valuable new marketplace will ensure our country’s continued leadership in space,” said Peter Marquez, Vice President of Global Engagement, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Planetary Resources is one of a new breed of private space adventures planning on mining an asteroid close to Earth in the next decade.
Planetary Resources is one of a new breed of private space adventures planning on mining an asteroid close to Earth in the next decade.

In the words of Senator Murray, “I am glad that we’ve taken this important step forward to update our federal policies to make sure they work for innovative businesses creating jobs in Washington state. Washington state leads in so many ways, and I’m proud that local businesses are once again at the forefront of new industries that will help our economy continue to grow.”

Congressman Posey said, “This bipartisan, bicameral legislation is a landmark for American leadership in space exploration. Recognizing basic legal protections in space will help pave the way for exciting future commercial space endeavors. Asteroids and other objects in space are excellent potential sources of rare minerals and other resources that can be used to manufacture a wide range of products here on Earth and to support future space exploration missions. Americans willing to invest in space mining operations need legal certainty that they can keep the fruits of their labor, and this bill provides that certainty.”

Congressman Kilmer said, “The commercial space industry in Washington state is leading the way in developing the cutting edge technology necessary to support human space exploration. The U. S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act will give these ventures the framework they need to continue to innovate and to keep the United States at the head of this growing, global industry. I congratulate the Senate for taking this step, and I look forward to the House quickly sending this bill to President Obama’s desk.”

Eric Anderson, Co-Founder, and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc., said, “Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species. This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space.”

Time to cash in those old stocks and bonds from the bygone era of Earth exploitation. The future is asteroids! 

Private firms around the United States and the world are currently making plans to take part in the future space bonanza. Can you afford to sit idly on the sidelines, while the future and opportunity pass you by? 

Take action! Join Planetary Resources or one of the few private firms planning on mining an asteroid in the decades ahead. 

Get your little piece of the future, in the form of a portion of the resources and monetary rewards of being part of the coming space bonanza.

People are currently getting in on the ground floor of this adventure and opportunity to take part in the future of mankind. 

The future is before us! Waiting to greet us into a sustainable way of living among the stars.  

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by investing in the future of mankind.

Read about NASA’s Explorer Program, which allows for relatively low-cost exploration of the solar system and cosmos.

Learn more about private firm Planetary Resources Inc. and their plans to mine an asteroid in the future.

Read about the search for the missing link in black hole evolution.

Learn more about mining as asteroid here.

Check out and join private firm Planetary Resources Inc. in their plans to cash in on the asteroid mining bonanza here.

Learn more about historic legislation H.R. 2262 here.

Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life

Just add water, gasses, and simple organic molecules 

Space news (July 27, 2015) – the search for life beyond Earth – a simple recipe for extraterrestrial life –

The simple building blocks of life could have traveled to Earth on icy grains of dust carried on asteroids and meteorites during the early moments of the Solar System.
The simple building blocks of life could have traveled to Earth on icy grains of dust carried on asteroids and meteorites during the early moments of the Solar System.

NASA scientists studying the origins of organic compounds important to the development of life on Earth think they’re on the trail of a cosmic “Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life”. Recent experiments conducted by astrobiologists working at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland indicate asteroids and meteorites could have been the source of complex organic compounds essential to the evolution of life on Earth. Essential organic compounds they have been able to reproduce in laboratory experiments from simpler organic compounds, water, and gasses in simulations of the space environments of meteorites and asteroids. 

“We found that the types of organic compounds in our laboratory-produced ices match very well to what is found in meteorites,” said Karen Smith of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This result suggests that these important organic compounds in meteorites may have originated from simple molecular ices in space. This type of chemistry may also be relevant for comets, which contain large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ices. These experiments show that vitamin B3 and other complex organic compounds could be made in space and it is plausible that meteorite and comet impacts could have added an extraterrestrial component to the supply of vitamin B3 on ancient Earth.”

“This work is part of a broad research program in the field of Astrobiology at NASA Goddard. We are working to understand the origins of biologically important molecules and how they came to exist throughout the Solar System and on Earth. The experiments performed in our laboratory demonstrate an important possible connection between the complex organic molecules formed in cold interstellar space and those we find in meteorites.”

The Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life

Deep within immense clouds of gas and dust created by exploding stars (supernovae) and the winds of red giant stars coming to the end of their days are countless dust grains. Many of these dust grains will end up part of asteroids and meteorites like the millions of bodies in the Main Asteroid Belt, Kuiper Belt, and Oort Cloud. Asteroids and meteorites that bombarded the Earth from space during the formation of the planets and Solar System.

Cosmic dust grains carried on asteroids and meteorites that struck the Earth during the first moments of the birth of the Solar System could have carried complex organic compounds that contributed to the birth and evolution of life on Earth.
Cosmic dust grains carried on asteroids and meteorites that struck the Earth during the first moments of the birth of the Solar System could have carried complex organic compounds that contributed to the birth and evolution of life on Earth.

NASA space scientists were able to reproduce a “Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life” using an aluminum plate cooled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 253 Celsius) as the cold surface of an interstellar dust grain carried by an asteroid or meteorite heading to Earth 4.5 billion years ago. The experiments were conducted in a vacuum chamber used to replicate conditions in space to which they added gasses containing water, carbon dioxide, and the simple organic compound pyridine. Bombarding the cold surface with high energy protons from a particle accelerator to simulate cosmic radiation and other radiation found in space produced more complex organic compounds like vitamin B3.  

Data collected by the European Space Agency's Rosetta Mission during the months and years ahead could shine more light on this subject. Rosetta's lander, Philae, is currently sitting on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko awaiting its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015. Presently, the surface of the comet is warming and gases we can test to validate the results of these experiments are expected to be released as it nears Sol. 
Data collected by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission during the months and years ahead could shine more light on this subject. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is currently sitting on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko awaiting its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015. Presently, the surface of the comet is warming and gasses we can test to validate the results of these experiments are expected to be released as it nears Sol.

To learn more about the European Space Agency and its work with the Rosetta mission go here.

To learn more about NASA’s space mission and the search for life beyond Earth visit here.

Learn more about the Goddard Space Flight Center here.

Learn more about plans to visit Jupiter’s moon Europa to have a look for the ingredients that make life possible.

Read about the search for the missing link in black hole evolution.

Learn about the planets space scientists are finding orbiting four star systems.

Survey of Debris Fields Around Infant Suns Reveals Structures with Unexpected Diversity and Complexity

Structures created during cataclysmic collisions between objects left over from planet formation or something unknown?

This is a set of images from a NASA Hubble Space Telescope survey of the architecture of debris systems around young stars. Ten previously discovered circumstellar debris systems, plus MP Mus (a mature protoplanetary disk of age comparable to the youngest of the debris disks), were studied.
This is a set of images from a NASA Hubble Space Telescope survey of the architecture of debris systems around young stars. Ten previously discovered circumstellar debris systems, plus MP Mus (a mature protoplanetary disk of age comparable to the youngest of the debris disks), were studied.

Space news (July 13, 2015) – collisions indicating possible gravitational effects of unseen orbiting exoplanets or consequences of the star traveling through interstellar space –

Space scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope recently completed a visible-light imaging survey of the debris field systems around 10 young stars between the ages of 10 million to 1 billion years old. Debris fields they studied in order to better understand the early solar system and formation of the planets.

Explore 25 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope NASA will host a one-day-long event for 50 social media and media attendees at the Newseum and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into a low Earth orbit and began returning groundbreaking images and data that continue to revolutionize astronomy.
Explore 25 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope
NASA will host a one-day-long event for 50 social media and media attendees at the Newseum and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into a low-Earth orbit and began returning groundbreaking images and data that continue to revolutionize astronomy.

It’s like looking back in time to see the kinds of destructive events that once routinely happened in our solar system after the planets formed,” said survey leader Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.

eclipseguy with Glenn Schneider from The Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Glenn is the Project Lead – he makes the calculations for our Totality Run: the aircraft’s interception of the Moon’s umbra. He’s seen 32 Total Solar Eclipses
eclipseguy with Glenn Schneider from The Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Glenn is the Project Lead – he makes the calculations for our Totality Run: the aircraft’s interception of the Moon’s umbra. He’s seen 32 Total Solar Eclipses

What did the survey find?

Space scientists studying the evolution of stars and the formation of planets used to think debris fields surrounding young stars should be composed of simple pancake-like structures.

The complexity and diversity in debris fields studied in this recent survey strongly suggest this scenario is a little more involved than theories suggest. Facts indicate the possibility of gravitational effects of unseen exoplanets hidden within the dusty debris, the results of the young star traveling through interstellar space, or something unthought of as the reason for the deviation from theory.

We find that the systems are not simply flat with uniform surfaces,” Schneider said. “These are actually pretty complicated three-dimensional debris systems, often with embedded smaller structures. Some of the substructures could be signposts of unseen planets.” The astronomers used Hubble’s Space Telescope

Imaging Spectrograph to study 10 previously discovered circumstellar debris systems.

Star HD 181327 Shows Huge Debris Spray

Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, this image shows the huge dusty debris discs around a star called HD 181327, showing a huge spray of debris possibly caused by the recent collision of two bodies into the outer part of the system. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2826048/Hubble-spots-massive-eye-sky-reveal-massive-dust-clouds-left-planets-form-say-moon-formed.html#ixzz3gjPl6sI1 Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, this image shows the huge dusty debris discs around a star called HD 181327, showing a huge spray of debris possibly caused by the recent collision of two bodies into the outer part of the system. Image credit NASA

The ring-like debris system surrounding star HD 181327 has irregularities space scientists think could be due to a recent collision between two bodies on the outer part of the system.

This spray of material is fairly distant from its host star — roughly twice the distance that Pluto is from the sun,” said co-investigator Christopher Stark. “Catastrophically destroying an object that massive at such a large distance is difficult to explain, and it should be very rare. If we are in fact seeing the recent aftermath of a massive collision, the unseen planetary system may be quite chaotic.

Another interpretation for the irregularity is that the disk has been mysteriously warped by the star’s passage through interstellar space, directly interacting with the unseen interstellar material. “Either way, the answer is exciting,” Schneider said. “Our team is currently analyzing follow-up observations that will help reveal the true cause of the irregularity.

As of 07/09/2015 space scientists have verified the existence of 1858 exoplanets, including 468 exosolar systems with multiple planets, and 92 Earth-size terrestrial-type planets. The structure and overall architecture of the systems discovered so far are more diverse than astrophysicists first proposed.

Habitable Worlds Image Credit & Licence: Planetary Habitability Laboratory (UPR Arecibo) Explanation: Is Earth the only known world that can support life? In an effort to find life-habitable worlds outside our Solar System, stars similar to our Sun are being monitored for slight light decreases that indicate eclipsing planets. Many previously-unknown planets are being found, including over 700 worlds recently uncovered by NASA's Kepler satellite. Depicted above in artist's illustrations are twelve extrasolar planets that orbit in the habitable zones of their parent stars. These exoplanets have the right temperature for water to be a liquid on their surfaces, and so water-based life on Earth might be able to survive on them. Although technology cannot yet detect resident life, finding habitable exoplanets is a step that helps humanity to better understand its place in the cosmos.
Habitable Worlds
Image Credit & Licence: Planetary Habitability Laboratory (UPR Arecibo)
Explanation: Is Earth the only known world that can support life? In an effort to find life-habitable worlds outside our Solar System, stars similar to our Sun are being monitored for slight light decreases that indicate eclipsing planets. Many previously unknown planets are being found, including over 700 worlds recently uncovered by NASA’s Kepler satellite. Depicted above in artist’s illustrations are twelve extrasolar planets that orbit in the habitable zones of their parent stars. These exoplanets have the right temperature for water to be a liquid on their surfaces, and so water-based life on Earth might be able to survive on them. Although technology cannot yet detect resident life, finding habitable exoplanets is a step that helps humanity to better understand its place in the cosmos.

During this time, space scientists have only viewed about two dozen light-scattering, circumstellar debris systems due to their comparative faintness and proximity to their parent stars. Despite the small sample size in exoplanetary debris systems astronomers view a surprising variety of architectures.

We are now seeing a similar diversity in the architecture of the accompanying debris systems,” Schneider said. “How are the planets affecting the disks, and how are the disks affecting the planets? There is some sort of interdependence between a planet and the accompanying debris that might affect the evolution of these exoplanetary debris systems.

What’s next?

Space scientists will now use the results obtained through this survey and the overall study of the debris system disks viewed to devise new theories and experiments to determine more about the evolution and growth of young stars in the cosmos.

They’ll also use the data and information gained to begin looking at how our solar system formed and evolved during the past 4.6 billion years. They want to study collisions between objects like HD 181327 and Earth-like planets to give more insight into the birth and evolution of our planet and the Moon during the first moments of the solar system.

You can learn more about and follow NASA’s space mission here.

Learn more about the Hubble Space Telescope here.

Learn about the NExSS Coalition’s Search for Habitable Planets and Life Beyond Earth.

Read about NASA telescopes detection of water vapor and clear skies on a Neptune-sized exoplanet.

Learn how to calculate the orbit of asteroids within the Main Asteroid Belt.

Calculating Orbits of Asteroids in the Main Asteroid Belt

The International Astronomical Search Campaign

The International Astronomical Search Campaign is looking for astronomy leaders of tomorrow
The International Astronomical Search Campaign is looking for astronomy leaders of tomorrow

Space news (astronomy leaders of tomorrow: The International Astronomical Search Campaign)

An asteroid is a piece of solid rock with an irregular body ranging in size between 500 meters and hundreds of kilometers. The majority of these bodies can be found in the main asteroid belt, a region of space between Mars and Jupiter. Pieces of rocky material left over from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago, NASA scientists estimate there are as many as 40,000 asteroids contained within this main asteroid belt, with a combined mass less than the Moon. Confirming the identity and calculating the orbit of the asteroids contained within this belt is part of the space mission of NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

The IASC plans and campaigns are expected to drive the human journey to the beginning of space and time forward
The IASC plans and campaigns are expected to drive the human journey to the beginning of space and time forward

The International Astronomical Search Campaign (IASC) is an educational outreach program created to allow high school and college students around the country to participate in identifying and calculating the orbit of every rocky body within the main asteroid belt. Originally created and developed by Patrick Miller of Hardin-Simmons University in the state of Texas, this program has helped tens of thousands of students in 250 schools and 25 countries on five continents learn more about astronomy.

Students can help determine the identify and orbit of asteroids in the main asteroid belt
Students can help determine the identity and orbit of asteroids in the main asteroid belt

Students participating in the program download images taken of an asteroid within the main asteroid belt in the last few hours by telescopes (24 and 32 inches) located in the Astronomical Institute in Illinois. Students must determine the identity and calculate the three-dimensional orbit of an asteroid using Astrometrica, a software package users need to download directly from the IASC website, within a three-day window.

The telescopes take three images of an asteroid at six-minute intervals,  which means it would have moved around five pixels in relation to distant background stars in each image. Astrometrica highlights objects in each image fitting these criteria by putting a red circle around them.

In order to determine an object is an asteroid, students must sort through objects that have moved in the images, and ones that are static. They do this by taking a look at the fit of the point spread function, the signal-to-noise ratio, and any change in the size of an object in the images. If an object has moved in a relatively straight line, stayed about the same size, has a signal-to-noise ratio greater than five, and is approximately round in shape, then it’s probably an asteroid.

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time today!

A typical International Astronomical Search Campaign lasts about 45 days, during which new asteroids are often discovered, identified, and their orbits determined. This is your chance to become an astronomy leader of tomorrow, by participating in the International Astronomical Search Campaign, and WISE’s mission to identify and calculate the orbit of every rocky body in the main asteroid belt.

You can find more information and news on the space mission of NASA’s WISE spacecraft here.

You can find more on the current campaigns of the International Astronomical Search Campaign here.

Schools desiring to take part in the International Astronomical Search Campaign contact the IASC Director, Dr. J. Patrick Miller by email at:
iascsearch@hsutx.edu.

Read about Rosetta preparing to make history

Read about the first earth size world discovered orbiting within the life zone of a star

Read about 715 new planets discovered by the Kepler Mission

NASA’s Dawn Falls Toward Vesta

Dawn sees the “Snowman” craters for the first time

 

The truth is out there waiting to be discovered”

Astronomy News – Dawn, NASA’s asteroid hunting spacecraft, recently circled Vesta, one of the largest asteroids in the solar system, before taking a closer look at an asteroid first viewed by German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers on March 29, 1807. The picture above is one of the latest images taken by Dawn of three craters on the surface of Vesta called “Snowman”that are located in the asteroid’s northern hemisphere. The associated picture below is of craters visible in the southern equatorial region of the giant asteroid taken at a height of around 3,200 miles above the surface. Currently astronomers indicate Dawn is about 1,800 miles above the asteroid, and is slowly getting closer to the giant asteroid, while it takes additional pictures we expect NASA to release in a few days.

The southern regions of Vesta don’t look like a vacation spot

 

Dawn of a new age of private space exploration

The real work for NASA scientists begins once Dawn begins orbiting Vesta at a height of around 1,700 miles, this orbital height will provide astronomers with an in depth view of the surface of the giant asteroid they can use to begin unravelling the current mystery surrounding the birth of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Planetary astronomers looking into the birth of our solar system believe Vesta, and similar large asteroids in the asteroid belt, could be the source of the large number of meteorites that fell on Earth in the past. This asteroid and similar large asteroids in the asteroid belt could also be potential planet-killers we here on Earth need to be aware of if we want to possibly avoid future collisions.

What is this view of Mars worth?

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is circling closer to this large asteroid, which is currently at a distance of around 114 million miles from Earth and has travelled a total distance of around 1.7 billion miles during its journey through the inner solar system. All of this work has been done in order to give the human journey to the beginning of the universe a closer look at Mars, Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn will travel to Ceres after it has finished taking a closer look at Vesta and use its on board instruments to detect subtle changes in the gravity field of Ceres. The data on the subtle changes occurring in the gravity field of Ceres can help astronomers determine some of the internal structure of Ceres by studying the mass distributed in the gravity field of each large body close to the dwarf planet.

Dawn next visits Ceres

Dawn will orbit Vesta for one year and then depart for Ceres, where it will arrive sometime in 2015. The present view we have of this large asteroid shows a dark world that has been bombarded by other asteroids throughout its history. Astronomers will now study this asteroid for clues to the formation of the early inner solar system and the Earth. Future images and analysis of data collected by Dawn, once it reaches Ceres, could also provide the human journey to the beginning of the universe with clues to the reason why life exists on Earth. The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Other scientific partners include Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz.; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany; DLR Institute for Planetary Research, Berlin; Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, Rome; and the Italian Space Agency. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft. More information on Dawn and its mission to Mars, Vesta and Ceres can be found by visiting http://www.nasa.gov/dawn. Photos displayed here courtesy of NASA. If you love this blog. Check out this astronomy website, which I have created at http://astronomytonight.yolasite.com/.

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion

Collisions Between Objects in the Solar Sytem is Absolute

Locating asteroids traveling through the solar system

Hebe 6 should be viewable in for the patient star-gazer

Collisions in space are actually rare events

Astronomy News – Locating smaller celestial objects in the night sky is harder and time-consuming, but with a little patience and perception all star-gazers, both amateur and professional, can journey to a nearby asteroid traveling through the solar system to view these smaller travelers through time and space.

How do astronomers locate small and distant celestial bodies traveling through the darkness of the solar system at speeds beyond human experience? We’ll use the story of asteroid Hebe 6 to illustrate the methods and techniques professional astronomers and even amateur astronomers can use to find asteroids in the darkness of space and time.

Astronomy requires patience and time spent
You’ll need patience and time to locate Hebe 6 in the night sky

Astronomers are always looking for collisions

In the solar system’s distant past, two asteroids traveling through the inner solar system collided in an explosion resulting in the formation of a huge cloud of floating debris. Fast forward to present time, these same pieces of space debris came falling to Earth one by one as meteorites. Scientists collecting the remains of these meteorites were able to follow the facts collected from their studies of these meteorites back to the source of the debris, Hebe 6.

Surprisingly, astronomers believe about 40 percent of the meteorites falling to Earth, share this same story of genesis from Hebe 6, during a collision with another unknown object in the darkness of the solar system in the distant past.

Hebe 6 appears to have survived the collision, and there haven’t been any estimates of the volume of debris comprising the dust cloud resulting from this distant collision in space and time, so scientists have no real way of determining the original size of Hebe 6, so far. Hebe 6 still spans at least 120 miles and shines at 8th magnitude, so using your time-machine-to-the-stars you should be able to view Hebe 6. Travel to your favorite dark sky spot for this adventure, you’ll need to point your viewer at 2nd magnitude star Beta Ceti. You’ll find Beta Ceti southeast of Jupiter in October’s southern night sky, just star-hop westward to 7 Ceti and then jump 2 degrees south to find Hebe 6. How will you know you have located Hebe 6 and not a background star? To make sure of the identity of Hebe 6, note the positions of the objects closest to your target, and then return in a couple of hours. Recheck the positions of the objects you recorded, if you’re found Hebe 6, your target will have moved relative to the objects you have noted close by in the night sky.

Learn why astronomy binoculars are a popular choice with amateur astronomers

Read about the Anasazi Indians

Read about astronomers viewing a supernova they think might have given birth to a black hole