Hubble Watches Comet ATLAS Disintegrate Into More Than Two Dozen Pieces

These two Hubble Space Telescope images of comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), taken on April 20 (left) and April 23, 2020, provide the sharpest views yet of the breakup of the solid nucleus of the comet. Hubble’s eagle-eye view identifies as many as 30 separate fragments. Hubble distinguishes pieces that are roughly the size of a house. Before the breakup, the entire nucleus of the comet may have been the length of one or two football fields. Astronomers aren’t sure why this comet broke apart. The comet was approximately 91 million miles (146 million kilometers) from Earth when the images were taken. [Credits: NASA, ESA, STScI and D. Jewitt (UCLA)]

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — These two Hubble Space Telescope images of comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), taken on April 20 and 23, 2020, provide the sharpest views yet of the breakup of the fragile comet.


Fragmentation of Comet ATLAS Observed on the First Crowd-Sourced Pictures from Citizen Astronomers

Comet ATLAS. (Credit: Unistellar Network)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (SETI Institute PR) — Discovered in December, Comet ATLAS was expected to become the brightest comet of 2020, visible to the naked eye. Several days ago, however, astronomers began to suspect that the comet had split into multiple pieces when it began dimming rapidly. At Unistellar, this created a unique opportunity to summon our community of citizen astronomers together to collect a high-quality image of this beautiful, but dying cosmic phenomenon.


NIAC Award: Hopping Probes for Interior Mapping of Small Solar System Bodies

Gravity Popper mission concept: A spacecraft deploys a swarm of hopping probes to the surface of a small body and then tracks their trajectories to precisely and iteratively refine a model of the body’s gravity field and internal structure. (Credits: Benjamin Hockman)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Gravity Poppers: Hopping Probes for the Interior Mapping of Small Solar System Bodies

Benjamin Hockman
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The goal of this effort is to develop a robust and affordable mission architecture that enables the gravimetric density reconstruction of small body interiors to unprecedented precision.


100th Lunar Asteroid Collision Confirmed by Second Telescope

100th asteroid impact jointly detected at the Moon. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Since March 2017, ESA’s  NELIOTA  project has been regularly looking out for ‘lunar flashes’ on the Moon, to help us better understand the threat posed by small asteroid impacts. The project detects the flash of light produced when an asteroid collides energetically with the lunar surface, and recently recorded its 100th impact. But this time, it was not the only one watching.


Ammonium Salts Found on Rosetta’s Comet

Scientists have detected ammonium salts on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (shown in this image on the right). [Credit: O. Poch, IPAG, UGA/CNES/CNRS (left); ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0 (right)]

GRENOBLE, France (ESA PR) — Scientists have detected ammonium salts on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by analysing data collected by the Visible, Infrared and Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) on ESA’s Rosetta mission between August 2014 and May 2015.


Here and Gone: Outbound Comets are Likely of Alien Origin

Researchers calculated the typical paths of long-orbit comets (blue) perturbed by a passing gas-giant-sized object (white) and objects of interstellar origin (red). (Credit: NAOJ)

TOKYO (NAOJ PR) — Astronomers at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) have analyzed the paths of two objects heading out of the Solar System forever and determined that they also most likely originated from outside of the Solar System. These results improve our understanding of the outer Solar System and beyond.


Comet’s Collapsing Cliffs and Bouncing Boulders

An example of a boulder having moved across the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s surface, captured in Rosetta’s OSIRIS imagery. [Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0)]

PARIS (ESA PR) — Scientists analysing the treasure trove of images taken by ESA’s Rosetta mission have turned up more evidence for curious bouncing boulders and dramatic cliff collapses.

Rosetta operated at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko between August 2014 and September 2016, collecting data on the comet’s dust, gas and plasma environment, its surface characteristics and its interior structure.


Newly Discovered Comet Is Likely Interstellar Visitor

Comet C/2019 Q4 as imaged by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii’s Big Island on Sept. 10, 2019. (Credits: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — A newly discovered comet has excited the astronomical community this week because it appears to have originated from outside the solar system. The object — designated C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) — was discovered on Aug. 30, 2019, by Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnij, Crimea. The official confirmation that comet C/2019 Q4 is an interstellar comet has not yet been made, but if it is interstellar, it would be only the second such object detected. The first, ‘Oumuamua, was observed and confirmed in October 2017.


NASA Gives a Financial Boost to In-Space Welding Projects

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA selected two projects for funding focused on developing in-space welding technologies as part of its recent round of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards.

The space agency selected Busek Company of Natick, Mass., and Made in Space of Jacksonville, Fla., for phase 1 awards worth up to $125,000 apiece for six months.

“Busek proposes to initiate the development of a semi-autonomous, teleoperated welding robot for joining of external (or internal metallic uninhabited volume at zero pressure) surfaces in space,”according to the proposal summary. “This welding robot will be an adaptation of a versatile Busek developed system called SOUL (Satellite On Umbilical Line) with a suitable weld head attached to it.


UK Scientists to Lead ESA’s New Comet Interceptor Mission

Comet Interceptor concept (Credit: ESA)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — A new mission called Comet Interceptor, which was proposed by the UK, has been targeted for launch by the European Space Agency in 2028.

Comet Interceptor would be the first mission to travel to a comet which has never previously encountered the inner Solar System.


ESA’s New Mission to Intercept a Comet

Comet Interceptor concept (Credit: ESA)

PARIS, 19 June 2019 (ESA PR) — ‘Comet Interceptor’ has been selected as ESA’s new fast-class mission in its Cosmic Vision Programme. Comprising three spacecraft, it will be the first to visit a truly pristine comet or other interstellar object that is only just starting its journey into the inner Solar System.


NASA, FEMA, International Partners Plan Asteroid Impact Exercise

Asteroids compared to Didymoon (Credit: Ian Carnelli adapting Planetary Society – E. Lakdawalla image)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — While headlines routinely report on “close shaves” and “near-misses” when near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids or comets pass relatively close to Earth, the real work of preparing for the possibility of a NEO impact with Earth goes on mostly out of the public eye.


Rosetta’s Comet Sculpted by Stress

Single frame enhanced NavCam image taken on 27 March 2016, when Rosetta was 329 km from the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The scale is 28 m/pixel and the image measures 28.7 km across. (Credit:  ESA/Rosetta/NavCam)

18 February 2019

MARSEILLE, France (ESA PR) — Feeling stressed? You’re not alone. ESA’s Rosetta mission has revealed that geological stress arising from the shape of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been a key process in sculpting the comet’s surface and interior following its formation.

Small, icy comets with two distinct lobes seem to be commonplace in the Solar System, with one possible mode of formation a slow collision of two primordial objects in the early stages of formation some 4.5 billion years ago. A new study using data collected by Rosetta during its two years at Comet 67P/C-G has illuminated the mechanisms that contributed to shaping the comet over the following billions of years.


Massive Impact Crater from a Kilometer-wide Iron Meteorite Discovered in Greenland

COPENHAGEN (University of Copenhagen PR) — An international team lead by researchers from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen have discovered a 31-km wide meteorite impact crater buried beneath the ice-sheet in the northern Greenland. This is the first time that a crater of any size has been found under one of Earth’s continental ice sheets. The researchers worked for last three years to verify their discovery, initially made in the 2015. The research is described in a new study just published in the internationally recognized journal Science Advances.


Cosmic Detective Work: Why We Care About Space Rocks

This artist’s concept depicts the spacecraft of NASA’s Psyche mission near the mission’s target, the metal asteroid Psyche. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

By Elizabeth Landau

The entire history of human existence is a tiny blip in our solar system’s 4.5-billion-year history. No one was around to see planets forming and undergoing dramatic changes before settling in their present configuration. In order to understand what came before us — before life on Earth and before Earth itself — scientists need to hunt for clues to that mysterious distant past.