This is great!
Watch Phil Plait’s TedXBoulder talk, “An asteroid impact can ruin your whole day.” It’s definitely worthwhile. Go ahead. Hit play.
When scientists examined a photograph of Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt, they were surprised to find what the massive object was made of.
Vesta is composed of many different layers of rock and material. This means that Vesta’s classification is somewhere between that of an asteroid and a planet. It’s one of the most ‘unique’ asteroids a spacecraft has visited, according to NASA.
Shall we call it a plasteroid? Or a planetoid? Maybe Vesta is a dwarf planet?
“Vesta’s iron core makes it special and more like terrestrial planets than a garden-variety asteroid,” said Carol Raymond, Dawn’s deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a release. “The distinct compositional variation and layering that we see at Vesta appear to derive from internal melting of the body shortly after formation, which separated Vesta into crust, mantle and core.”
The discovery was due to NASA’s Dawn Mission, which is now orbiting Vesta at its closest distance yet.
Dawn has been orbiting Vesta since this past July. The spacecraft will leave the giant object in July 2012 for its next adventure: researching the dwarf planet Ceres.
Read more about asteroids here.
A little grainy, but here it is.
A photograph of the massive, 1,300-foot wide asteroid 2005 YU55 – which will pass extremely close to Earth today – was released by NASA. The aircraft-carrier-sized object is not a threat, scientists say, but it will be closer to our planet than the moon.
The asteroid will reach its closest point to Earth today at 6:28 p.m. EST. It might be difficult for an amateur astronomer to see, but here’s some fabulous advice from Sky and Telescope.
Scientists were expecting to photograph the object as it speed by Earth. The imaging will continue and we’ll be sure to post additional photos here on Space Oddities. This is the first time astronomers know about a flyby of an object this large.
Our solar system has more than 500,000 asteroids flying around. But don’t worry, the “big one” isn’t expected to end life here on Earth for several million years.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study them. After all, there are more than 1,000 asteroids on a “potentially dangerous” watch list.
“We have to figure out how to nudge these objects out of the way,” said Kevin Conod, manager for the Newark Museum’s Dreyfuss Planetarium.
Conod gave a lecture, “All about Asteroids,” this past week during the North Jersey Astronomical Group’s monthly meeting at Montclair State University.
Conod spoke about the history of asteroids (scientists thought they were stars, hence the Greek word “aster” for “star” ), its characteristics (a majority are dark carbonaceous objects; some are stony and a small fraction are metallic), and the latest asteroid-related discoveries gathered by NASA’s Dawn mission.
Dawn is orbiting the asteroid Vesta, a 330-mile object located in our solar system’s asteroid belt. After mapping, photographing and further study of Vesta, Dawn will travel to Ceres, a dwarf planet.
Vesta and Ceres are two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt and they are quite different. According to the mission’s website:
The top-level question that the mission addresses is the role of size and water in determining the evolution of the planets. Ceres and Vesta are the right two bodies with which to address this question, as they are the most massive of the protoplanets, baby planets whose growth was interrupted by the formation of Jupiter. Ceres is very primitive and wet while Vesta is evolved and dry.
Conod showed various pictures taken from Dawn that shows Vesta’s rocky and impact-ridden surface.
Questions were raised regarding some of the parallel grooves, or streaks, on Vesta’s surface. What could have caused those marks, audience members asked Conod. “They go on much longer than can be explained by impact,” Conod responded. “They are really quite long … It’s under investigation.”
Later this month, NASA will obtain more images (eight times higher resolution) of Vesta. We’ll keep you posted here on Space Oddities.
After its rendezvous with Vesta, Dawn will head out to the dwarf planet Ceres. “It’s going to be an interesting world to explore,” Conod said.
There are only five objects classified as dwarf planets in our solar system. Perhaps the most famous is Pluto, which was declassified from a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006.