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Pan-STARRS solves the biggest problem facing every astronomer

“The science that came out of it alone is staggering. Nobody has had as much astronomical data in all of history as what Pan-STARRS has produced. They’ve discovered about 3,000 new near-Earth objects; tens of thousands of asteroids in the main belt, approximately 300 Kuiper belt objects (about a third of all the Kuiper belt objects ever discovered), and imaged a total of more than three billion verified objects. For those of you wondering, there’s no evidence for or against Planet Nine in the data, but the Pan-STARRS data does support that our Solar System ejected a fifth gas giant in its distant past.”

If you want to observe the night sky, it’s not quite as simple as pointing your telescope and collecting photons. You have to calibrate your data, otherwise your interpretation of what you’re looking at could be skewed by gas, dust, the atmosphere or other intervening factors that you’ve failed to consider. Without a proper calibration, you don’t know how reliable what you’re looking at is. The previous best calibration was the Digitized Sky Survey 2, which went down to 13 millimagnitudes, or an accuracy of 1.2%. Just a few weeks ago, Pan-STARRS released the largest astronomy survey results of all-time: 2 Petabytes of data. It quadruples the accuracy of every calibration we’ve ever had, and that’s before you even get into the phenomenal science it’s uncovered.

Come learn how it’s solved the biggest problem facing every astronomer, and why observational astronomy will never be the same!

Close Comet and Large Magellanic Cloud : Sporting a surprisingly bright, lovely green coma Comet 252P/Linear poses next to the Large Magellanic Cloud in this southern skyscape. The stack of telephoto exposures was captured on March 16 from Penwortham, South Australia. Recognized as a Jupiter family periodic comet, 252P/Linear will come close to our fair planet on March 21, passing a mere 5.3 million kilometers away. Thats about 14 times the Earth-Moon distance. In fact, it is one of two comets that will make remarkably close approaches in the next few days as a much fainter Comet Pan-STARRS on March 22. The two have extremely similar orbits, suggesting they may have originally been part of the same comet. Sweeping quickly across the sky because of their proximity to Earth, both comets will soon move into northern skies. via NASA

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Today in Pop Culture History
February 7, 1964

Legendary heartthrobs, The Beatles, arrive in the United States for the first time. I wanna hold your hand…

Asteroid to Pass Near Earth on Halloween

This Halloween, the Earth will have a visitor nearly on its doorstep. But it won’t be looking for candy or tossing an egg at our windows—it’s asteroid 2015 TB145, and its flyby, while close, is no reason to be scared.

The visitor was discovered earlier this month with the help of the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS-1 telescope, part of NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program, and is an unexpected boon to asteroid researchers.

“Every close-up view of an asteroid tells us more about their structure and composition, information we will need to someday deflect a real threat”, says Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences Curator Denton Ebel.

Since TB145 will be passing the Earth just a little farther than the orbit of the Moon—almost close enough to shout “trick or treat!”—researchers are aiming to learn everything they can about the 400-foot-wide object while the chance presents itself. It likely won’t be visible to the naked eye, but NASA is preparing to get high-resolution looks at the object as it nears Earth using radar and optical imaging.

“The close approach of 2015 TB145 at about 1.3 times the distance of the Moon’s orbit, coupled with its size, suggests it will be one of the best asteroids for radar imaging we’ll see for several years,” Lance Brenner, the head of NASA’s asteroid research program, said in a statement. The unexpected viewing is a great chance to learn more about asteroids, as the next appearance of an object of comparable size so close to Earth is not anticipated until 2027.

Until then, the Museum offers plenty of other ways to learn about asteroids, including a new series of video explainers featuringDr. Ebel. You can view the latest, which details the largest asteroids to ever hit the Earth, below:

Learn more about near-earth asteroids.