Mysterious pulsar with hidden powers discovered – Dramatic flares and bursts of energy – activity previously thought reserved for only the strongest magnetized pulsars – have been observed emanating from a weakly magnetised, slowly rotating pulsar. The international team of astrophysicists who made the discovery believe that the source of the pulsar’s power may be hidden deep within its surface. –UK Space Agency
Chandra: What Lies Beneath? Magnetar Enigma Deepens – An artist’s rendering of SGR 0418+5729, a slowly rotating neutron star with a very weak magnetic field at its surface. Observations from several telescopes, including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, have revealed that the star is giving off bursts of X-rays and gamma rays. –NASA/Chandra
Sneak preview into the the National Geographic documentary on Virgin Galactic.
The first episode will be shown on Monday 18th October at 10.00pm both ET and PT in the USA. Never seen footage of the team at Scaled Composites and the journey towards the completion of SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo.
Crew of STS-133 before the TCDT
Mars landslide spotted
Klyuchevskaya volcano in Kamchatka
Gallery Pick of the Day
Approaching Hawaii Islands, big view, as seen by Expedition 25 commander Douglas H. Wheelock
Expedition 25 crew members Oleg Skripochka, Scott Kelly and Sasha Kaleri lifted off in the Soyuz capsule for the International Space Station. They're joining Commander Doug Wheelock, Fyodo Yurchikhin and Shannon Walker, who have been in orbit since June. Also, the Congress approved the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, paving the way for the agency's future exploration plans. Plus, Mars Meteorite, Back in the Air, the Best Station Views, and more.
Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania
Globular Star Cluster NGC 6934
Gallery Pick of the Day
The beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 406 was discovered in 1834 by John Herschel and is here imaged in great detail by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA showdown looms as shuttle workers face layoffs – With more than 1,500 space shuttle workers facing layoffs this week, legislators say they will take a final shot at passing a blueprint for the U.S. human space program before adjourning ahead of the November 2 congressional elections. -Reuters
How investments in space technology research can pay back big time – As the UK government ponders how much money it can afford to invest in research, it will want to reflect on Tuesday’s announcement from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) and the rather small amount of public cash it sent the company’s way in 2000. -Jonathan Amos / BBC
How big is your camera? Astronomers use a 1.4 *giga*pixel camera to nab a potentially hazardous asteroid – The sky is big. Searching it for potentially hazard objects like asteroids and comets is hard. The best way to do it? A big ’scope, equipped with a BIG camera, and a wide, wide field of view. That’s just what the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System — PanSTARRS — brings to the table. It’s just a prototype, but it has a 1.8 meter ’scope on — wait for it, wait for it — Mount Haleakala, and it sports a 1.4 gigapixel camera. You read that right: 1.4 billion pixels. -Phil Plait / Bad Astronomy / Discovery Blogs
SDO has entered eclipse season. Around the time of the equinoxes, the spacecraft, Earth, and sun can line up almost perfectly. Once a day for about an hour, Earth blocks SDO
The Full Moon Over the Andes
Vegas Moon & Eiffel Tower
Observe the Moon - NASA
2010 ST3 taken by PS1 - PS1SC
Gallery Pick of the Day
The Earth at night with Aurora Australis - Credit: Douglas H. Wheelock (@Astro_Wheels) / Expedition 24-25 / NASA
Only hours after the recently found duo of asteroids with provisional designations 2010 RX30 and 2010 RF12 passed the Earth within lunar orbit, another “overstuffed flying couch”, just marginally bigger than 2010 RF12, saw the Earth up close. The object was discovered shortly before 10 UT on September 10 by the Catalina Sky Survey, Tucson, Arizona during their routine monitoring of the skies.
Animation of 2010 RF12 composed of 4 unfiltered exposures, 30-seconds each obtained by means of a 0.25-m, f/3.4 reflector + CCD - Credit: Ernesto Guido & Giovanni Sostero
According to the most recent orbital elements, 2010 RK53 passed the perigee of roughly 76,300km at around 23:30 UT on September 8. This time there was no “warning”. The object came in at an elongation of about 34 degrees, i.e. from the direction of the Sun in the sky, where no ground-based telescope can aim (and hope to get any useful results). Therefore, 2010 RK53 wasn’t observed up until it had already gone by. Nevertheless, unlike 2010 RX30 and 2010 RF12, which are now lost in sunlight (at elongation of less than 30 degrees), 2010 RK53 will remain observable by medium and large sized telescopes for a few days until September 13-14.
Although the object had no chance of hitting Earth, a ten meter-sized near-Earth asteroid from the undiscovered population of about 50 million would be expected to pass almost daily within a lunar distance, and one might strike Earth’s atmosphere about every ten years on average.
Today, at 12:46 GMT, the asteroid with temporary designations 2010 AL30, discovered on January 10 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey, flew by our planet at the distance of 0.000 86 AU (129,060 km; about 33% of the distance to the Moon). Within the next few hours, its brightness and elongation will drop dramatically and the object will disappear until the next (relatively) close approach in August 2028 (0.079 35 AU ~ 11.87 mil. km).
Thanks to photometric observations from around the world, pointing uncertainties have shrunk from about 523 arcseconds (3-sigma) to about 7 arcseconds. The new orbit calculations were accurate enough to point the radio telescopes of the Goldstone Observatory in Mojave Dessert at the asteroid. Early in the morning, between 02:20 and 04:20 GMT, astronomers were able to obtain valuable radar data which will dramatically improve the object’s orbit and provide additional information on its size and shape.
Lance Benner of NASA/JPL reported strong radar echoes from 2010 AL30 at Goldstone. The bandwidth was consistent with the asteroid’s expected size (10-20m). Bill Ryan and Richard Miles determined the rotation period to be roughly 9 minutes.
2010 AL30 imaged by a SLOOH telescope on January 13 at 03:02 GMT - Credit: Tavi Greiner / SLOOH
The image above displays 2010 AL30 taken by the SLOOH robotic observatory on the Canary Islands. The SLOOH space camera takes gray-scale image. To make a color image, the camera takes exposures with different filters. The individual filtered images are later combined into a single color image (just as the red, green and blue channels are combined to form a color picture). Because the asteroid was relatively close, long exposure left trails as the object moved relatively to background stars. Since different color filters were used at different times, in this case red was used first, then green and finally blue, the individual color trails do not overlap in the final image and reveal the tricolored line.
Series of 30 15" exposures tracking on 2010 AL30 between 07:18:16 and 07:27:29 GMT - Credit: Patrick Wiggins
Series of 73 1" exposures tracking 2010 AL30 at normal sidereal rate between 06:38:42 and 06:44:25 GMT; - Credit: Patrick Wiggins
The two captures above are compositions of series of exposures Patrick Wiggins took with a C-14 @ f/5.5 telescope and SBIG ST-10 binned 3×3 using clear filter. The Field of View (FOV) is about 18′ x 26′. Note that in the second one the target is pretty faint (not surprising for 1″ exposures) so you have to look close to see it as it moves from left to right.
2010 AL30 imaged on January 12 from the distance of 0.003 7 AU at the Nazaret Observatory at the Canary Islands - Credit: Gustavo, Muler, Schteinman - Observatorio Nazaret, J47
Trajectory of Asteroid 2010 AL30 Past Earth on January 12/13, 2010 - Credit: NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office (Don Yeomans, Paul Chodas, Steve Chesley & Jon Giorgini)
Because of the unusual orbital period of 2010 AL30, which is almost precisely 1 year (366 days) some have suggested it could have been a man-made rocket stage in orbit about the Sun. Nevertheless, trajectory extrapolations show that the object cannot be associated with any recent launch and it has not made any close approaches to the Earth since well before the Space Age began (the last relatively close approach occurred at 08:09 GMT on August 17, 1947 when 2010 AL30 passed the Earth at the distance of 0.038 97 AU ~ 5.8 mil. km). Therefore, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Small Body Database has officially classified 2010 AL30 as a Near-Earth Object (NEO) of type Apollo (Near-Earth asteroids which cross the Earth’s orbit, similar to that of 1862 Apollo, i.e. with semi-major axis, a > 1.0 AU and perihelion distance, q < 1.017 AU).
In the end, the story of 2010 AL30 had a happy ending for inhabitants of the planet Earth; we’ve dodged yet another bullet. Even if 2010 AL30 had been on a collision course with our planet, it posed only a minimal risk as it would have certainly break up in Earth’s atmosphere. According to NASA/JPL one could expect a near-Earth asteroid of this size to pass within the moon’s distance about once every week on average.
For more 2010 AL30 images, fly-by animation and the apparent orbit sky chart see my earlier post.
Update 6: See the latest 2010 AL30 post for new information and most recent photos.
Update 5: As more observations of 2010 AL30 were submitted to the Minor Planet Center (MPC), the greatest uncertainty (3-sigma/”) for the January 13 fly-by has been reduced from about 500″ to a mere 7″ (MPEC 2010-A65 – 2300 GMT).
Update 4: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Small Body Database now officially classifies 2010 AL30 as a NEO asteroid of type Apollo (Near-Earth asteroids which cross the Earth’s orbit, similar to that of 1862 Apollo, i.e. with semi-major axis, a > 1.0 AU and perihelion distance, q < 1.017 AU).
Update 3: Below is an image of asteroid 2010 AL30 taken by Dave Herald on January 12 at 15h 46m GMT. The asteroid is the dot near the center of the image. Image is a stack of 5 x 4-sec exposures using a 35cm SCT. The CCD was binned to give a 2″ pixel size to give greater sensitivity, and to be consistent with asteroid motion – which was 0.56″/sec at the image time.
Image of asteroid 2010 AL30 taken on Jan 12 at 15h 46m GMT with a 35cm Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope - Credit: Dave Herald
Update 2: Thanks to recent observations around the world, the Minor Planet Center (MPC) has improved the orbital uncertainty of 2010 AL30 to 5, which is equivalent to an in-orbit longitude runoff of less than 1692 arcsec / decade (MPEC 2010-A61 – 1251 GMT).
Update 1: Ernesto Guido & Giovanni Sostero we able to follow 2010 AL30 using a Global-rent-a-scope (GRAS) network telescopes in Mayhill, New Mexico, to produce the following composition of 16 10-second long exposures.
2010 AL30 follow-up on Jan 12.37 through the Global Rent-a-Scope (GRAS) Network using a scope located in Mayhill (NM) - Credit: Ernesto Guido & Giovanni Sostero
Asteroid 2010 AL30 was discovered on January 10 by a 1.0-m f/2.15 reflector + CCD at the Lincoln Laboratory ETS (observers M. Blythe, G. Spitz, R. Brungard, J. Paige, P. Festler), in New Mexico, as a part of the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey . The discovery was published in the Minor Planet Electronic Circulars (MPEC) MPEC 2010-A59 issued at 15:43 GMT on January 11.
Strangely enough, preliminary orbit calculations point to orbital period equal almost exactly 1 year (366 days) and its close encounters with Venus could suggest an artificial origin (rocket booster or some other space junk from a spacecraft sent on a mission to Venus in 1985, 2003, or 2006). Nevertheless, since the orbit does not resemble any useful trajectory and the object’s encounter velocity with the Earth is not unusually low (9.5 km/sec), the period is most likely a coincidence and 2010 AL30 is a typical NEO with an ordinary Earth-crossing orbit (with MOID = 0.000 037 963 AU = 5 680 km)
Since the object is almost on an impact trajectory, this is a great example of how much warning time we have for an object with H = 27.0 (about 10-20m). 2010 AL30 also approaches the Earth from the night side, from almost exactly opposite direction than the Sun (just 15 degrees off of the exact anti-solar direction). Were coming from the other side of the sky (solar direction), we would not see it until hours after the closest approach.
Animation of 2010 AL30 near Earth fly by on January 13, 2010 - Credit: Gerhard Dangl
During the close approach, the asteroid will be best observed a few hours before passing the perigee (January 13, 12:47 GMT) from Hawaii, New Zealand and the east coast of Australia, traveling through the constellations of Canis Minor, Orion, and Taurus. Shortly after the closest approach, the object’s brightness will drop dramatically and with elongation below 20 degrees, 2010 Al30 will disappear in the sunlight. Below is a sky chart with the (approximate) apparent position of 2010 AL30 between January 12 and January 14.
The apparent orbit of the asteroid during 2010 AL30, 12 January 00:00 GMT to 14 January 06:00 GMT - Credit: Gerhard Dangl