The Japanese asteroid probe Hayabusa succeeded in returning more than 1,500 grains of dust from the asteroid 25143 Itokawa when it parachuted into the Australian outback in June 2010. Already, the samples from this 1,800 foot-long (550 meter) rubble pile have helped solve the longstanding mystery of where most meteorites striking our planet come from. To uncover still more details about asteroids, scientists analyzed the size, mineralogy, shape and geochemistry of five dust grains recovered by Hayabusa.
The cosmic close encounter featured the comet Garradd and bright globular star cluster M92. It was photographed by astronomer Conrad Jung with the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, Calif. Jung used a 5-inch refractor telescope to snap a 10-minute exposure of comet Garradd as it zipped close by M92 on February 3. Both objects were in the constellation Hercules at the time. While comet Garradd and star cluster appeared close to each other, it was only a trick of perspective. Star cluster M92 is actually about 27,000 light-years from Earth, while comet Garradd is currently zipping through our inner solar system.
Scientists have discovered a new type of alien planet.The standard-bearer for this new class of exoplanet is called GJ 1214b, which astronomers first discovered in December 2009.GJ1214b is a super-Earth orbiting a red-dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer). New observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope show that it is a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere. GJ1214b represents a new type of planet, like nothing seen in our solar system or any other planetary system currently known. To date, astronomers have discovered more than 700 planets beyond our solar system, with about 2,300 more candidates awaiting confirmation by follow-up observations but according to researchers GJ 1214b, is something new altogether. This so-called super-Earth is about 2.7 times Earth’s diameter and weighs nearly seven times as much as our home planet.
Saturn two biggest moons hang together in a stunning new photo from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.The image shows the heavily cratered Rhea in the foreground, while the hazy orb of the huge moon Titan looms in the distance.Cassini snapped the shot in visible green light on December 10, 2011, and it was released to the public on February 13. According to researchers Cassini was about 808,000 miles (1.3 million kilometers) from Rhea and 1.2 million miles (2 million km) from Titan when it took the picture. Titan is the largest of Saturn’s many satellites, at 3,200 miles (5,150 km) wide, it’s nearly 1.5 times bigger than Earth’s moon.
After more than a decade of drilling, Russian scientists broke through the ice on February 5, reaching a hidden cache of water known as Lake Vostok that has been cut off from the surface since an ice sheet covered it between 14 million and 34 million years ago. The isolated lake bears similarities to features on Europa, whose icy surface is thought to hide a liquid ocean layer. Roughly the size of Lake Ontario, the liquid Lake Vostok lies beneath 2 miles (3.7 kilometers) of ice. Its chilly depths could mirror the oceans of Europa, whose icy surface is up to 10 miles (15 km) thick.
The globular cluster,called NGC 6752, at over 10 billion years old, is one the most ancient collections of stars known. It has been blazing for well over twice as long as our solar system has existed. NGC 6752 contains a high number of “blue straggler” stars. These stars display characteristics of stars younger than their neighbors, despite models suggesting that most of the stars within globular clusters should have formed at approximately the same time.
NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) has captured the best and most complete glimpse yet of what lies beyond the solar system. The new measurements give clues about how and where our solar system formed, the forces that physically shape our solar system, and the history of other stars in the Milky Way. The Earth-orbiting spacecraft observed four separate types of atoms including hydrogen, oxygen, neon and helium. These interstellar atoms are the byproducts of older stars, which spread across the galaxy and fill the vast space between stars.
Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have rings, leaving Pluto as the only outer planet without rings. But PSI Senior Scientist Henry Throop would love to change that. Using both giant telescopes on Earth, and a small spacecraft currently on its way to Pluto, Throop is searching for signs that Pluto may have rings orbiting it, just like its neighbors. Astronomers expect that Pluto could well have rings, they’ve just never been discovered. Until now astronomers haven’t found any rings. Throop is working with NASA’s New Horizons mission, which is sending a spacecraft to Pluto, to arrive in 2015.
Today the sun, Earth and Jupiter form a 90-degree angle. Astronomers say that Jupiter is at eastern quadrature, 90 degrees east of the sun, at this juncture.