Asteroid That Flew Past Earth Today Has Moon

Scientists working with NASA’s 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, have released the first radar images of asteroid 2004 BL86. The images show the asteroid, which made its closest approach today (Jan. 26, 2015) at 8:19 a.m. PST (11:19 a.m. EST) at a distance of about 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers, or 3.1 times the distance from Earth to the moon), has its own small moon.

The 20 individual images used in the movie were generated from data collected at Goldstone on Jan. 26, 2015. They show the primary body is approximately 1,100 feet (325 meters) across and has a small moon approximately 230 feet (70 meters) across. In the near-Earth population, about 16 percent of asteroids that are about 655 feet (200 meters) or larger are a binary (the primary asteroid with a smaller asteroid moon orbiting it) or even triple systems (two moons). The resolution on the radar images is 13 feet (4 meters) per pixel.

The trajectory of asteroid 2004 BL86 is well understood. Monday’s flyby was the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. It is also the closest a known asteroid this size will come to Earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past our planet in 2027.

A new high-energy X-ray image from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has pinpointed the true monster of a galactic mashup. The image shows two colliding galaxies, collectively called Arp 299, located 134 million light-years away. Each of the galaxies has a supermassive black hole at its heart.

NuSTAR has revealed that the black hole located at the right of the pair is actively gorging on gas, while its partner is either dormant or hidden under gas and dust. The findings are helping researchers understand how the merging of galaxies can trigger black holes to start feeding, an important step in the evolution of galaxies.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC

The Butterfly Nebula from Hubble  : The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earths night sky are often named for flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years, NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up of the dying stars nebula was recorded in 2009 by the Hubble Space Telescopes Wide Field Camera 3, and is presented here in reprocessed colors. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot stars dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). via NASA


As the CEO of the Planetary Society, I can tell you, there is one preventable natural disaster, and that’s an asteroid. If we got hit by a 50 meter object, 1 kilometer object — that’s it, okay? That’s CTRL+ALT+DELETE for civilization. I mean, that’s over. And we are the first generations of humans that have the ability to do something about it.

— Bill Nye (excerpted from the film 'Fight for Space', speaking on the consequences of an underfunded space program, and why we must care about our “place in space”)

A very timely message for humanity (especially politicians occupying positions in Congress) during a period in history where we’ve become gravely aware of the cosmic shooting gallery we exist amidst.

The above image (provided by the B612 Foundation) is a computer simulation of all known asteroids and their trajectories (watch here). Currently, there is no comprehensive map of our inner solar system which show absolute positions and trajectories of asteroids that might threaten Earth. As a collective species, we are essentially orbiting blind around the solar system. 

In terms of “not having enough money" to simultaneously improve the quality of life for everyone, perpetuate a thriving economy, transition into a society fueled by hydrogen/electricity/overall renewable energy, and explore space, these topics are not mutually exclusive. We can, and have, worked on all of these at the same time by performing science pertinent to every single aspect of our lives. And when politicians assert that we don’t have the money, I’ll paraphrase a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson

It’s not that you don’t have the money. It’s that the distribution of money that you’re spending is warped in some way, that you’re removing the very thing that gives people something to dream about tomorrow. So, I’m worried the decisions Congress makes doesn’t factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow. Tomorrow (metaphoric, tomorrow) is gone. They’re playing for the quarterly report, they’re playing for the next election cycle, and that is mortgaging the actual future of this nation.

Indeed, the future being mortgaged is not simply of one nation, but the global collective of life on this planet.

Our lives are dependent upon modern technologies developed throughout the “space age” whereby we realized very quickly how necessary activity in space would become in our lives moving forward. And now, those same technologies have become expanded upon into various other fields of science and discovery. One of those areas of curiosity happens to be the identification of Near-Earth Objects and Potentially Harmful Asteroids. 

What type of object qualifies as potentially dangerous?

(1) If it crosses the Earth’s orbit at a distance less than 0.05 AU (astronomical units, which, for reference, 1 AU = the distance from the Earth to the sun); (2) If such an object exceeds 100-150 meters in diameter. An object that meets these criteria are large enough to cause a tsunami if striking the ocean, and cause unprecedented destruction upon hitting land. 

Today — Monday, January 26, 2015 — marks the interaction of such an object. Asteroid 2004 BL86 will pass by us at 3x the distance from the Earth to the moon (1.2 million kilometers), measuring as large as 5 football fields. 

Although this particular asteroid doesn’t pose us any threat, the reality is, we’re blindsided regularly by objects we never saw coming due to our lack of proper visibility in space. On February 15, 2013, we were reminded of this when a 500 kiloton explosion rocked the Russian town of Chelyabinsk, injuring over 1,500 people.

So, how much do we know about Asteroid 2004 BL86? 

It was discovered in 2004 (hence the name) by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program (LINEAR) which led in asteroid discoveries from 1998-2005 until it was overtaken by the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS), and Asteroid 2004 BL86 orbits the sun every 1.84 years. That’s it. 

To provide a sense of how blind we are when it comes to asteroids of this or any magnitude intersecting Earth’s orbit, radar astronomer Lance Benne said

When we get our radar data back from the flyby, we will have our first detailed images. At present, we know almost nothing about the asteroid, so there are bound to be surprises.

Of course, terrestrial observatories will be collecting data on the asteroid as it passes by, but what about the next? Or the ones out there which may have Earth in its sights that we still haven’t catalogued? What are we doing about this?

Right now, NASA has a mission proposal under development called the Near-Earth-Object Camera (NEOCam). The other main effort toward asteroid discovery, characterization, and tracking is the B612 Foundation (a privately funded organization led by astronauts Rusty Schweickart and Ed Lu), whose Sentinel Mission is slated to launch between 2017-2018.

Related: Watch Ed Lu explain the vital role B612 Foundation plays on our future in this video that plays at Arizona’s ‘Meteor Crater’.

However, there’s good news and bad news.

A portion of NASA’s budget is being appropriated to developing the technology for NEOCam, which will assess the present-day risk of NEO impact, study the origin/destinies of our solar system’s asteroids, and designate suitable NEO targets for human/robotic exploration. That’s good news.

NASA has many other things to do, such as analyzing the health of the entire biosphere and all the living inhabitants it supports, and NASA’s budget is not sufficient enough to do everything it needs to do AND protect the planet from asteroid threats.

That’s, obviously, the bad news.

As for the B612 Foundation, here’s the good news: Sentinel is on track to be the first privately-funded deep space mission ever launched, courtesy of Ball Aerospace aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Placed into a Venus-like orbit, Sentinel will have its back to the sun, Sentinel will use its infrared optics to discover 20,000+ asteroids within the first month of operation — more than the combined effort of telescopes in the last 30 years. Within 6.5 years, Sentinel will follow trajectories of more than 90% of asteroids larger than 140 meters.

The bad news: B612 Foundation is privately funded. Think on this. Here’s a mission which will change the course of history for generations to come, relying on private funding. Why?

NASA - if robustly funded - would be more than capable to orchestrate fleets of spacecraft and exploration missions all over deep space, inventing new technologies along the way, while demanding a dynamic work force of scientifically literate crew members to imagine, construct, implement, and maintain these space programs far into the future. This kind of demand calls for a strong STEM education which would usher in a society of dreamers and innovators emboldened with a passion to shape and secure the longevity of life from here to worlds beyond Earth.

Among other topics, the preservation of our species, and the biodiversity of life on Earth is a core element we communicate in the film. We urge your support by sharing, promoting, and backing our Kickstarter campaign to finalize post-production funds and finish this film for the world to see.

Passing bills for short term gain, pandering to corporations, and serving the needs of a few to appeal to a constituency are not in the best interests of us today, and certainly do not have future generations in mind. We must demand more from ourselves, our Congresspeople, and our space program. 

Support the #FightforSpace.


NASA just released this breathtaking photos taken with its $1.5B telescope

2015 is the International Year of Light. On Dec. 20, 2013, the United Nations created the Year of Light to “highlight to the citizens of the world the importance of light and optical technologies in their lives.” And no one is more excited to celebrate than NASA.

This is what an exploding star actually looks like and more photos


On July 19, 2012, a moderately powerful solar flare exploded on the sun’s lower right hand limb, sending out light and radiation. Next came a coronal mass ejection (CME), which shot off to the right out into space. And then, the sun treated viewers to one of its dazzling magnetic displays — a phenomenon known as coronal rain

Over the course of the next day, hot plasma in the corona cooled and condensed along strong magnetic fields in the region. Magnetic fields, themselves, are invisible, but the charged plasma is forced to move along the lines, showing up brightly in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 304 Angstroms, which highlights material at a temperature of about 50,000 Kelvin.

Credit: NASA

Light shines on new views: The year of 2015 has been declared the International Year of Light (IYL) by the United Nations. Organizations, institutions, and individuals involved in the science and applications of light will be joining together for this yearlong celebration to help spread the word about the wonders of light. In many ways, astronomy uses the science of light. And to celebrate, Nasa’s Chandra X-ray Observatory released new images. Here’s one of them: When X-rays, shown in blue, from Chandra and XMM-Newton are joined in this image with radio data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array (pink) and visible light data from the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS, yellow), a new view of the region emerges. This object, known as MSH 11-62, contains an inner nebula of charged particles that could be an outflow from the dense spinning core left behind when a massive star exploded.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/P.Slane et al; Optical: DSS; Radio: CSIRO/ATNF/ATCA

Cataclysmic Dawn : Will this dawn bring another nova? Such dilemmas might be pondered one day by future humans living on a planet orbiting a cataclysmic variable binary star system. Cataclysmic variables involve gas falling from a large star onto an accretion disk surrounding a massive but compact white dwarf star. Explosive cataclysmic events such as a dwarf nova can occur when a clump of gas in the interior of the accretion disk heats up past a certain temperature. At that point, the clump will fall more quickly onto the white dwarf and land with a bright flash. Such dwarf novas will not destroy either star, and may occur irregularly on time scales from a few days to tens of years. Although a nova is much less energetic than a supernova, if recurrent novas are not violent enough to expel more gas than is falling in, mass will accumulate onto the white dwarf star until it passes its Chandrasekhar limit. At that point, a foreground cave may provide little protection, as the entire white dwarf star will explode in a tremendous supernova. via NASA


NASA’s next mission might be sending a helicopter to Mars

The Milky Way over the Seven Strong Men Rock Formations

(via APOD; Image Credit & Copyright: Sergei Makurin )

You may have heard of the Seven Sisters in the sky, but have you heard about the Seven Strong Men on the ground? Located just west of the Ural Mountains, the unusual Manpupuner rock formations are one of the Seven Wonders of Russia. How these ancient 40-meter high pillars formed is yet unknown. The persistent photographer of this featured image battled rough terrain and uncooperative weather to capture these rugged stone towers in winter at night, being finally successful in February of last year. Utilizing the camera’s time delay feature, the photographer holds a flashlight in the foreground near one of the snow-covered pillars. High above, millions of stars shine down, while the band of our Milky Way Galaxy crosses diagonally down from the upper left.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015 January 26

The Milky Way over the Seven Strong Men Rock Formations

You may have heard of the Seven Sisters in the sky, but have you heard about the Seven Strong Men on the ground? Located just west of the Ural Mountains, the unusual Manpupuner rock formations are one of the Seven Wonders of Russia. How these ancient 40-meter high pillars formed is yet unknown. The persistent photographer of this featured image battled rough terrain and uncooperative weather to capture these rugged stone towers in winter at night, being finally successful in February of last year. Utilizing the camera’s time delay feature, the photographer holds a flashlight in the foreground near one of the snow-covered pillars. High above, millions of stars shine down, while the band of our Milky Way Galaxy crosses diagonally down from the upper left.

Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski is teaming up with Game of Thrones producer Vince Gerardis to adapt Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars for Spike TV.

One of the best selling hard science fiction novels, Robinson’s trilogy depicts the colonization and terraforming of the red planet into a thriving world for humanity. Spike TV has decided that audiences who tune in for Star Wars movie marathons are ready for a science fiction television show.

Read more at!


The island of Greenland has been buried by ice for literally several million years. Some of the ice near the bottom in certain locations is hundreds of thousands of years old, while the ice near the top can be only decades or centuries old. This growth of ice creates different layers within the glaciers that flow in different ways.

NASA has spent years surveying this ice sheet with a tool called IPR - Ice Penetrating Radar. Using that radar, NASA has mapped out the layers within the ice sheet and the topography beneath it.

This is a 3-D map of the ice Greenland Ice sheet, capturing three different periods of ice as well as the topography below.

Get ready for the Earth’s last close pass with an asteroid for 12 years

An asteroid is set to come within a safe viewing distance of Earth on Monday, and although the chances of it hitting us are astronomically remote, its size is giving space enthusiasts something to marvel at all the same.

The asteroid, called 2004 BL86, will be approximately 745,000 miles from Earth at its closest point in the rendezvous. It’s as long as five football fields, but despite what you might imagine, it’s nothing to worry about, according to NASA. In fact, the asteroid is proving to be a great learning opportunity for the American space agency.

[Read more]