New discoveries: Ringed asteroid surprises researchers; dwarf planet found in the outer Solar System

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This artist’s impression shows a close-up of what the rings might look like. Photo courtesy of ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger

This artist’s impression shows a close-up of what the rings might look like.
Photo courtesy of ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger

How well do we know our own backyard? A little better today.

This afternoon, Brazilian astronomers announced the discovery of a double ringed asteroid in the far reaches of our Solar System. While the news wasn’t officially released until today, Twitter was abuzz last evening with talk about what the major discovery could be. Unfortunately, the cat left the bag early. (Some people need to learn the definition of embargo!)

Anyway, back to the news: The asteroid, dubbed Chariklo, is the smallest object in our Solar System known to have rings.

According to lead scientist Felipe Braga-Ribas:

We weren’t looking for a ring and didn’t think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all, so the discovery — and the amazing amount of detail we saw in the system — came as a complete surprise!

Braga-Ribas also thinks a small moon could be orbiting the asteroid.

If that wasn’t cool enough for you, another big announcement relating to the outer Solar System was released today.

A dwarf-planet, called 2012 VP113, was found far beyond Pluto. In an interview with NewScientist, Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, said,

We thought Pluto was unique for over 70 years, but we now know that it shares its orbit with thousands of other objects … Sedna was unique for about 10 years but it’s now clear that Sedna and 2012 VP113 are just the tip of the iceberg.

The tip of the iceberg, indeed. Many say that this recent finding points to a massive planet beyond 2012 VP113. Why? The dwarf planet’s orbit tells scientists that something is going on.

While the latest news is fascinating, it also proves just how little we really know about our own Solar System. Here’s to many more discoveries ahead.

Photo of the week: Martian dunes shaped in V formation

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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

We have another Martian oddity on our hands.

In this late 2013 image of the red planet, a field of dunes appear in V-shaped formation. Located on a large crater in an old Martian valley, the dunes number in the dozens.

For dune fields, the spacing of individual dunes is a function of sand supply, wind speed, and topography,” according to NASA.

The formations have been likened to migratory bird formations and even a popular sci-fi show.

Ha!

A planet bonanza: Over 700 new exoplanets discovered

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The Kepler planet-hunting mission continues to rake in results.

Over 700 new planets have been discovered, Kepler researchers announced yesterday. A large majority of the planets – about 95 percent – are the size of Neptune, which is four times larger than Earth.

Kepler has been searching for planets outside of our Solar System for several years now. This discovery brings the total number of confirmed exoplanets to 1,700. That’s amazing! And, there are still over 3,000 potential planets that have not yet been confirmed.

This infographic explains how scientists have detected exoplanets and the small portion of sky Kepler has focused its attention.
Explanation of new exoplanets found by Kepler Space Telescope.

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Sun unleashes massive solar flare, the biggest in 2014

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The sun released a “significant” solar flare Monday – a monster in fact, according to some media reports. The powerful blast of radiation doesn’t seem to be headed our way, but if it were, NASA says not to worry. Earth’s atmosphere protects us from being harmed by radiation. However, we might have some problems tweeting.

… when intense enough [solar flares] can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.”

Not good. Here’s more about Monday’s flare:

Some believe a large enough flare could cause damage to the North American electrical grid, the effects of which could leave Western nations in the dark for months. But that’s for another time. If you’re interested in learning more about solar flares and the sun’s active cycle – which is happening right now!! – check out some of our past posts.

Photo of the week: A spectacular launch with a bird’s eye view

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The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41 on Nov. 18, 2013.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

This photo is amazing! I can’t believe I didn’t see it make the rounds last November.

Here we see the spacecraft MAVEN launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at the tail end of 2013. NASA researchers hope to learn a bit more about Mars’ upper atmosphere, which disappeared millions of years ago. So far, everything is on track with MAVEN, which will begin orbiting the red planet in mid-September.

How far has the spacecraft traveled since this picture was taken? More than 137 million miles. Go, Maven!

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Space Travel: Then and now

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Much has changed since the beginning of space exploration. What better way to look back at all the advancements than by illustrating them with an infographic?

Thanks to Meilen L. for sending this my way.
Space Travel: Then and Now [Infographic]

Space Travel: Then and Now [Infographic] [Infographic] by the team at Wish.co.uk

Evidence of water vapor bursting from one of Jupiter’s moons

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This is an artist's concept of a plume of water vapor thought to be ejected off the frigid, icy surface of the Jovian moon Europa, located about 500 million miles (800 million kilometers) from the sun. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI

This is an artist’s concept of a plume of water vapor thought to be ejected off the frigid, icy surface of the Jovian moon Europa, located about 500 million miles from the sun.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI

Who doesn’t love the Jovian moon Europa?

It has mystery, intrigue and so much possibility. One of Jupiter’s largest moons, Europa has the potential to harbor life, according to researchers, who believe an ocean of water exists below the satellite’s frigid surface. Most recently, there’s been some evidence to support that claim.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured images of water vapor surrounding the northern region of the icy moon. Researchers are confident that the vapor is caused by erupting water plumes on Europa’s surface.

Should further observations support the finding, this would make Europa the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes.

The first moon believed to have ejected water vapor is Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons.

The search for water is paramount to the search for life and scientists believe there are countless areas in our solar system and beyond that have H20.  Here’s a photo gallery of some of the places that are believed to have had or have water. Which is your fav?