New study traces dark near-Earth asteroids back to oddball asteroid family

Time-lapse view of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE spacecraft on May 17, 2010. WISE was later renamed to NEOWISE in 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Time-lapse view of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE spacecraft on May 17, 2010. WISE was later renamed to NEOWISE in 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Near-Earth asteroids, also known as Near Earth Objects (NEOs), are some of the best studied space rocks in the Solar System, primarily due to the fact that they approach the orbit of Earth, making them potentially dangerous to our home planet. Now, a new study has provided evidence that at least some of them, including dark ones which are more difficult to see, originate from the oddball Euphrosyne family of dark asteroids which are at the outer edge of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but have highly inclined orbits well above the plane or “equator” of the Solar System.

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NASA awards grants to Ozark IC to create circuits for proposed Venus rover

Artist’s conception of the Venus Landsailing Rover. It would use advanced circuits which could survive longer than previous landers in the extreme surface conditions. A “sail” on top would help to move the rover on the surface using wind, a technique known as landsailing. Image Credit: NASA GRC
Artist’s conception of the Venus Landsailing Rover. It would use advanced circuits which could survive longer than previous landers in the extreme surface conditions. A “sail” on top would help to move the rover on the surface using wind, a technique known as landsailing. Image Credit: NASA GRC

In what may be a significant step toward the seemingly far-off goal of sending a rover to the surface of Venus, NASA has awarded two grants totalling $245,000 to a semiconductor technology firm to design complex integrated circuits which could withstand the extremely harsh environment on this neighboring world.

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Haze detected above mystery bright spots on Ceres

The brightest of the bright spots on Ceres, in Occator crater. Haze detected above them may help scientists determine if they are made of ice, salts or something else. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
The brightest of the bright spots on Ceres, in Occator crater. Haze detected above them may help scientists determine if they are made of ice, salts or something else. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The intriguing bright spots on dwarf planet/asteroid Ceres have been fascinating the public and scientists alike for the past few months, and now a new discovery might provide a valuable clue as to just what these spots are made of: the Dawn spacecraft has detected a periodic haze over the brightest spots in Occator crater.

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Kepler update: Earth’s ‘bigger and older cousin’ discovered orbiting distant star

Artist’s conception of Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-sized exoplanet discovered orbiting in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star. Image Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
Artist’s conception of Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-sized exoplanet discovered orbiting in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star. Image Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

One of the primary goals in the search for exoplanets is to, hopefully, find an Earth analog or “Earth twin,” an alien world similar to our own. That search is still ongoing, but getting closer – yesterday NASA announced a new exoplanetary discovery that could be described as “Earth’s bigger and older cousin” – Kepler-452b.

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Image Gallery: Pluto mountains and plains mosaic in colour

Image Credit: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI/Thomas Appéré
The icy mountains and plains in the “heart” of Pluto. Click for larger version. Image Credit: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI/Thomas Appéré

Another beautiful mosaic image of the icy mountains and plains in the southern “heart” region of Pluto, this time in colour with image processing by Thomas Appéré. The mountains on the left have been named Norgay Montes and the plains are now known as Sputnik Planum. Plus more Pluto information and images at the next press briefing tomorrow!

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Image Gallery: another mountain range on Pluto and new mosaic

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Another amazing image of Pluto’s surface has been released, showing a second mountain range similar to the one previously photographed by New Horizons. The peaks in this range are estimated to be from 1 to 1.5 kilometres (0.5 mile to 1 mile tall), similar to the Appalachian Mountains in the U.S., and like the others, composed of solid water ice.

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Image Gallery: Pluto flyby mosaic in colour

Image Credit: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI/Thomas Appéré
Mosaic image on the right is from the area inside the white box on the left global image. Image Credit: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI/Thomas Appéré

A great new colour mosaic of the first Pluto flyby images released so far is now available from Thomas Appéré. The images show the Sputnik Planum plains and Norway Montes mountains in the southern part of the large “heart” feature. More images to come soon!

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Image Gallery: icy cracked plains on Pluto

Photo Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

A new close-up view of Pluto’s surface was released today, this time showing an expanse of icy plains next to the previous mountains imaged earlier. More bizarre and unexpected terrain, with polygons similar to ones seen in icy regions on Mars and Earth, but on a larger scale, and how they’re formed here isn’t known yet. Other mounds and small pits are also visible. As noted in the press conference again, Pluto is turning out to show much more evidence for geological activity than had been anticipated. This image version still has compression artifacts in it, but there are more and higher-resolution images to come!

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