First Asteroid With Rings Discovered (like how cool is that?!)

Until now it seemed that only giant planets had the gravity to hold on to the billions of bits of orbiting ice and dust that make up a ring, but in a paper published today in Nature, astronomers report the discovery of two icy rings around a small object named Chariklo that orbits between Saturn and Uranus.

The discovery was made possible by observations at many sites in South America, including ESO's La Silla Observatory. The origin of these rings remains a mystery, but they may be the result of a collision that created a disc of debris.

"This probably will be the biggest discovery of my career," says Felipe Braga-Ribas of the National Observatory in Brazil, who led the team that found the rings, and who received his Ph.D. just last year.

Sources: 1, 2
Illustration by Lucie Maquet

Every Asteroid Discovered Since 1980

From the far, far away to the startlingly close, there have been over 600,000 asteroids identified in the inner solar system since 1980. This visualization tracks them all.

The video is the work of Scott Manley. Manley included the path of the near-by asteroids that have been identified starting 34 years ago and carrying on to this year. The asteroids that cross our own orbit are in red, the ones that just get close are in yellow, and the ones even further out are all in green.

Source: io9.com

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a sun-like star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the formation of planets.
"We are watching rocky planet formation happen right in front of us," said George Rieke, a University of Arizona co-author of the new study. "This is a unique chance to study this process in near real-time."

read more here
artist concept credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Disintegration of an asteroid

This series of Hubble Space Telescope images reveals the breakup of an asteroid over a period of several months in late 2013. 

The largest fragments are up to 200 yards in radius, each with “tails” caused by dust lifted from their surfaces and pushed back by the pressure of sunlight. The 10 pieces of the asteroid drift apart slowly and show a range of breakup times, suggesting that the disintegration cannot be explained by a collision with another asteroid. 

One idea for the breakup is that the asteroid was accelerated by sunlight to spin at a fast enough rate to fly apart by centrifugal force. The images were taken in visible light with Hubble’s Wide-Field Camera 3.

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Vesta’s Many Colors at Sextilia

This colorful image from NASA’s Dawn mission shows material northwest of the crater Sextilia on the giant asteroid Vesta. Sextilia, located around 30 degrees south latitude, is at the bottom right of this image.

The image was taken by Dawn’s framing camera from September to October 2011.

In this image, the entire color spectrum of Vesta becomes visible. While a large asteroid impact probably brought the black material, the red material may have been melted by the impact.

The composite image was created by assigning ratios of color information collected from several color filters in visible light and near-infrared light to maximize subtle differences in lithology (the physical characteristics of rock units, such as color, texture and composition). The color scheme pays special attention to the iron-rich mineral pyroxene.

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First Ring System Around Asteroid

Observations at many sites in South America, including ESO’s La Silla Observatory, have made the surprise discovery that the remote asteroid Chariklo is surrounded by two dense and narrow rings. This is the smallest object by far found to have rings and only the fifth body in the Solar System — after the much larger planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — to have this feature. The origin of these rings remains a mystery, but they may be the result of a collision that created a disc of debris. The new results are published online in the journal Nature on 26 March 2014.

Continue reading via ESO

Images: Artist’s impression of the rings around Chariklo. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger.

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