Comet Makes a Pit Stop Near Jupiter’s Asteroids

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image of the young comet P/2019 LD2 as it orbits near Jupiter’s captured ancient asteroids, which are called Trojans. The Hubble view reveals a 400,000-mile-long tail of dust and gas flowing from the wayward comet’s bright solid nucleus. (Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Olmsted/STScI)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — For the first time, a wayward comet-like object has been spotted near the family of ancient asteroids.

After traveling several billion miles toward the Sun, a wayward young comet-like object orbiting among the giant planets has found a temporary parking place along the way. The object has settled near a family of captured ancient asteroids, called Trojans, that are orbiting the Sun alongside Jupiter. This is the first time a comet-like object has been spotted near the Trojan population.

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The 7 Rocky TRAPPIST-1 Planets May Be Made of Similar Stuff

Measuring the mass and diameter of a planet reveals its density, which can give scientists clues about its composition. Scientists now know the density of the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets with a higher precision than any other planets in the universe, other than those in our own solar system. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Precise measurements reveal that the exoplanets have remarkably similar densities, which provides clues about their composition.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is home to the largest group of roughly Earth-size planets ever found in a single stellar system. Located about 40 light-years away, these seven rocky siblings provide an example of the tremendous variety of planetary systems that likely fill the universe.

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NASA Perseveres Through Pandemic to Complete Successful 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA made significant progress on America’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, met mission objectives for the Artemis program, achieved significant scientific advancements to benefit humanity, and returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, all while agency teams acted quickly to assist the national COVID-19 response.

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Citizen Scientists Discover Dozens of New Cosmic Neighbors in NASA Data

In this artist’s rendering, the small white orb represents the white dwarf (a remnant of a long-dead Sun-like star), while the purple foreground object is the newly discovered brown dwarf companion, confirmed by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. This faint brown dwarf was previously overlooked until being spotted by citizen scientists working with Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, a NASA-funded citizen science project. (Credits: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld/Acknowledgement: William Pendrill)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — We’ve never met some of the Sun’s closest neighbors until now. In a new study, astronomers report the discovery of 95 objects known as brown dwarfs, many within a few dozen light-years of the Sun.

They’re well outside the solar system, so don’t experience heat from the Sun, but still inhabit a region astronomers consider our cosmic neighborhood. This collection represents some of the coldest known examples of these objects, which are between the sizes of planets and stars.

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NASA’s TESS, Spitzer Missions Discover a World Orbiting a Unique Young Star

This illustration depicts one interpretation of the planet AU Mic b and its young red dwarf host star. The system lies about 32 light-years away in the southern constellation Microsopium. [Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA).]

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — For more than a decade, astronomers have searched for planets orbiting AU Microscopii, a nearby star still surrounded by a disk of debris left over from its formation. Now scientists using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and retired Spitzer Space Telescope report the discovery of a planet about as large as Neptune that circles the young star in just over a week.

The system, known as AU Mic for short, provides a one-of-a-kind laboratory for studying how planets and their atmospheres form, evolve and interact with their stars.

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A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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SOFIA Confirms Nearby Planetary System is Similar to Our Own

Artist’s illustration of the Epsilon Eridani system showing Epsilon Eridani b. In the right foreground, a Jupiter-mass planet is shown orbiting its parent star at the outside edge of an asteroid belt. In the background can be seen another narrow asteroid or comet belt plus an outermost belt similar in size to our solar system’s Kuiper Belt. The similarity of the structure of the Epsilon Eridani system to our solar system is remarkable, although Epsilon Eridani is much younger than our sun. SOFIA observations confirmed the existence of the asteroid belt adjacent to the orbit of the Jovian planet. (Credits: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

PALMDALE, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s flying observatory, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, recently completed a detailed study of a nearby planetary system. The investigations confirmed that this nearby planetary system has an architecture remarkably similar to that of our solar system.

Located 10.5 light-years away in the southern hemisphere of the constellation Eridanus, the star Epsilon Eridani, eps Eri for short, is the closest planetary system around a star similar to the early sun. It is a prime location to research how planets form around stars like our sun, and is also the storied location of the Babylon 5 space station in the science fictional television series of the same name.

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NASA Missions Have Their Eyes Peeled on Pluto

This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 8, and has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument. (Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI)
This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 8, and has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument. (Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — What’s icy, has “wobbly” potato-shaped moons, and is arguably the world’s favorite dwarf planet? The answer is Pluto, and NASA’s New Horizons is speeding towards the edge of our solar system for a July 14 flyby. It won’t be making observations alone; NASA’s fleet of observatories will be busy gathering data before and after to help piece together what we know about Pluto, and what features New Horizons data might help explain.

“NASA is aiming some of our most powerful space observatories at Pluto,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division Director at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “With their unique capabilities combined, we will have a multi-faceted view of the Pluto system complementary to New Horizons data.”

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Spitzer Telescope Finds Organics and Water Where New Planets May Grow

NASA PRESS RELEASE
March 13, 2008

Researchers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered large amounts of simple organic gases and water vapor in a possible planet-forming region around an infant star, along with evidence that these molecules were created there. They’ve also found water in the same zone around two other young stars.

By pushing the telescope’s capabilities to a new level, astronomers now have a better view of the earliest stages of planetary formation, which may help shed light on the origins of our own solar system and the potential for life to develop in others.

John Carr of the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, and Joan Najita of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Ariz., developed a new technique using Spitzer’s infrared spectrograph to measure and analyze the chemical composition of the gases within protoplanetary disks. These are flattened disks of gas and dust that encircle young stars. Scientists believe they provide the building materials for planets and moons and eventually, over millions of years, evolve into orbiting planetary systems like our own.

“Most of the material within the disks is gas,” said Carr, “but until now it has been difficult to study the gas composition in the regions where planets should form. Much more attention has been given to the solid dust particles, which are easier to observe.”

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