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Solar System’s First Interstellar Visitor Dazzles Scientists

Artist’s impression of the interstellar asteroid `Oumuamua

This article was originally published by NASA. You can continue reading it on the NASA website, here.

Now, new data reveal the interstellar interloper to be a rocky, cigar-shaped object with a somewhat reddish hue. The asteroid, named ‘Oumuamua by its discoverers, is up to one-quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly-elongated—perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide. That aspect ratio is greater than that of any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system to date. While its elongated shape is quite surprising, and unlike asteroids seen in our solar system, it may provide new clues into how other solar systems formed.

The observations and analyses were funded in part by NASA and appear in the Nov. 20 issue of the journal Nature. They suggest this unusual object had been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system.

“For decades we’ve theorized that such interstellar objects are out there, and now – for the first time – we have direct evidence they exist,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study formation of solar systems beyond our own.”

Immediately after its discovery, telescopes around the world, including ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world were called into action to measure the object’s orbit, brightness and color. Urgency for viewing from ground-based telescopes was vital to get the best data.

Combining the images from the FORS instrument on the ESO telescope using four different filters with those of other large telescopes, a team of astronomers led by Karen Meech of the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii found that ‘Oumuamua varies in brightness by a factor of ten as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours. No known asteroid or comet from our solar system varies so widely in brightness, with such a large ratio between length and width. The most elongated objects we have seen to date are no more than three times longer than they are wide.

“This unusually big variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about ten times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape,” said Meech. We also found that it had a reddish color, similar to objects in the outer solar system, and confirmed that it is completely inert, without the faintest hint of dust around it.”

These properties suggest that ‘Oumuamua is dense, comprised of rock and possibly metals, has no water or ice, and that its surface was reddened due to the effects of irradiation from cosmic rays over hundreds of millions of years.

A few large ground-based telescopes continue to track the asteroid, though it’s rapidly fading as it recedes from our planet. Two of NASA’s space telescopes (Hubble and Spitzer) are tracking the object the week of Nov. 20. As of Nov. 20, ‘Oumuamua is travelling about 85,700 miles per hour (38.3 kilometers per second) relative to the Sun. Its location is approximately 124 million miles (200 million kilometers) from Earth — the distance between Mars and Jupiter – though its outbound path is about 20 degrees above the plane of planets that orbit the Sun. The object passed Mars’s orbit around Nov. 1 and will pass Jupiter’s orbit in May of 2018. It will travel beyond Saturn’s orbit in January 2019; as it leaves our solar system, ‘Oumuamua will head for the constellation Pegasus.

Observations from large ground-based telescopes will continue until the object becomes too faint to be detected, sometime after mid-December. NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) continues to take all available tracking measurements to refine the trajectory of 1I/2017 U1 as it exits our solar system.

This remarkable object was discovered Oct. 19 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations(NEOO) Program, which finds and tracks asteroids and comets in Earth’s neighborhood. NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said, “We are fortunate that our sky survey telescope was looking in the right place at the right time to capture this historic moment. This serendipitous discovery is bonus science enabled by NASA’s efforts to find, track and characterize near-Earth objects that could potentially pose a threat to our planet.”

Preliminary orbital calculations suggest that the object came from the approximate direction of the bright star Vega, in the northern constellation of Lyra. However, it took so long for the interstellar object to make the journey – even at the speed of about 59,000 miles per hour (26.4 kilometers per second) — that Vega was not near that position when the asteroid was there about 300,000 years ago.

While originally classified as a comet, observations from ESO and elsewhere revealed no signs of cometary activity after it slingshotted past the Sun on Sept. 9 at a blistering speed of 196,000 miles per hour (87.3 kilometers per second).

The object has since been reclassified as interstellar asteroid 1I/2017 U1 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is responsible for granting official names to bodies in the solar system and beyond. In addition to the technical name, the Pan-STARRS team dubbed it ‘Oumuamua (pronounced oh MOO-uh MOO-uh), which is Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first.”

Astronomers estimate that an interstellar asteroid similar to ‘Oumuamua passes through the inner solar system about once per year, but they are faint and hard to spot and have been missed until now. It is only recently that survey telescopes, such as Pan-STARRS, are powerful enough to have a chance to discover them.

“What a fascinating discovery this is!” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “It’s a strange visitor from a faraway star system, shaped like nothing we’ve ever seen in our own solar system neighborhood.”

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Meteor Fireball, Bright as 100 Moons, Lights Up Arctic Sky


Via The Associated Press

A blazing fireball lit up the dark skies of Arctic Finland for five seconds, giving off what scientists said was “the glow of 100 full moons” and igniting hurried attempts to find the reported meteorite.

Finnish experts were scrambling to calculate its trajectory and find where it landed, according to Tomas Kohout of the University of Helsinki’s physics department, who said Thursday night’s fireball “seems to have been one of the brightest ones.”

It produced a blast wave that felt like an explosion about 6:40 p.m. and could also be seen in northern Norway and in Russia’s Kola peninsula, he told The Associated Press on Saturday.

It might have weighed about 100 kilograms (220 pounds), according to Nikolai Kruglikov of Yekaterinburg’s Urals Federal University.

“We believe it didn’t disintegrate but reached a remote corner of Finland,” Kohout said, adding that any search plans for the meteorite must face the fact that “right now we don’t have much daylight” — four hours, to be precise.

The Norwegian meteorite network said the fireball “had the glow of 100 full moons” and likely was going northeast, perhaps “to the Norwegian peninsula of Varanger,” north of where the borders of Russia, Finland and Norway meet.

Kohout said scientists looked forward to any space debris they can get their hands on.

“We are happy to recover (it) since this is a unique opportunity to get otherwise inaccessible space material,” said Kohout. “This is why it’s worth it to search for them.”

Viktor Troshenkov of the Russian Academy of Sciences told the Tass newsagency that the fireball could be part of a prolific meteor shower known as the Leonids, which peaks at this time of year. He said he felt Thursday’s fireball likely wasn’t the sole meteorite but others maybe were not seen due to thick clouds elsewhere.

Troshenkov told Tass that meteor showers can be even stronger. The Leonids reach their maximum once every 33 years — and the last time that happened was in 1998, he said. Amateur astronomers in the Arctic then saw about 1,000 meteors, 40 meteorites and one fireball in just one night.

In 2013, a meteorite streaked across the Russian sky and exploded over the Ural Mountains with the power of an atomic bomb, its sonic blasts shattering countless windows and injuring about 1,100 people. Many were cut by flying glass as they flocked to windows, curious about what had produced such a blinding flash of light.

The 2013 Chelyabinsk meteorite was estimated to be about 10 tons when it entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph). It shattered into pieces about 30-50 kilometers (18-32 miles) above the ground but some meteorite chunks were found in a Russian lake.

A meteoroid is smaller than a kilometer (0.62 mile), and often so small that when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere it vaporizes and never reaches the ground. A meteor is a flash of light caused by a meteoroid that fails to get through the Earth’s atmosphere. If part of it does survive, that’s called a meteorite.

Asteroids are generally larger chunks of rock that come from the asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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The Story of Asteroid Day Haiti

Peter Rulx Theo


Why am I personally supporting Asteroid Day?

I am personally supporting Asteroid Day because I want my people (Haitians) to know the truth about asteroids and what to expect from them. We used to have some natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes but an asteroid impact would be incredibly different and global! Many questions have already come from the community about rocks coming from the sky and the only answer they had for most of the time is from religious interpretations. Despite being an OBGYN, I have also been an astronomy lover since my childhood and have been trained from many books and MOOCs. I have also been involved in Dr. Lisa Harvey-Smith’s Professional Astronomy Research Experience: Magnetic Fields in Space (https://www.lisaharveysmith.com/) and an Astronomy Expert university program in Bircham International University (http://www.bircham.edu/ ).

What am I doing for Asteroid Day?

I plan to have a national conference at the HQ of our association “Société Haïtienne d’Astronomie” (Haitian Astronomical Society). We have purchased some materials from a budget supported by online fundraising. At the moment we are now actively sending out invitations to our event. Our focus is the national media. Meanwhile, we have some regional broadcasts in astronomy where we talk also about asteroids and the Asteroid Day.

What challenges am I facing/have I faced in your preparation of events for Asteroid Day?
The biggest challenge is to have people respond effectively to the invitation. In fact, they are so saturated by local social, economical & political troubles. But we plan to send and to re-send the invitations; our public banners are almost done.

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Asteroid Day Update – September Edition – OSIRIS-REx


In this month’s Asteroid Update video series, our host Scott Manley talks to Dr. Dante Lauretta, Asteroid Day Expert and Principal Investigator (PI) for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission. OSIRIS-REx launched this on September 8, 2016 from the Kennedy Space Center on a multi-year mission to study the asteroid Bennu.

Bennu is a particularly interesting asteroid, whose regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system –and essentially the origins of life. OSIRIS-REx’s mission will be to map the asteroid and return a sample. Bennu is also a hazardous asteroid so not only will the mission give researchers and scientists valuable knowledge of this asteroid’s physical and chemical composition, but also insight to its orbits and eventually how we can prepare to deflect dangerous asteroids.

Dante explains that throughout 2017, OSIRIS-REx will be in the ‘survey phase’, using hyperbolic flybys before the spacecraft will be ready to go in orbit around the asteroid in 2018. At that time, OSIRIS-REx will determine the best site for the five minute impact, designed to characterize the asteroid.  

Dr. Lauretta characterizes OSIRIS-REx as a “vacuum cleaner in reverse” – and his story of how this spacecraft works and also how he came to name the mission – is all in the interview.

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Asteroid Named for Freddie Mercury


Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

On the occasion of his 70th birthday, Freddie Mercury received a cosmic boost when on September 5th, ‘Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury’ was officially named for him. The asteroid’s original name was 1991FM3 as Freddie Mercury died in 1991, the same year this asteroid was discovered. B612 Mission Scientist Marc Buie presented the Certificate at Freddie Mercury’s birthday party in Switzerland on September 5, 2016.

So how do you get an asteroid named after you?

Names are approved by the International Astronomical Union, and archived at the Minor Planet Center. In this case, Dr. Joel Parker, asteroid expert and director of the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, CO) (who also served as the principal investigator for the Rosetta Mission), and Dr. Brian May, our co-founder of Asteroid Day, submitted Freddie Mercury’s name in honor his 70th Birthday. Like May, Parker is both an astrophysicist and longtime musician. Asteroids are currently named for many pop legends, including The Beatles, Brian May, and David Bowie.

If you want to view ‘Asteroid 17473 FreddieMercury’, you’ll just need a basic telescope. To get the quintessential  experience, you will need to be listening at the same time to Freddie singing: I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky…

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Asteroid Day Update – Feat Scott Manley and Jill Tarter from SETI Institute – August 2016

You may have already seen it but in case you haven’t, we are proud to collaborate with Astronogamer Scott Manley on this new monthly video series – Asteroid Day Update – where he talks about asteroids and astronomy with supporters of the 100x Asteroid Day declaration. This month he sat down with the legendary astronomer Jill Tarter, one of the great pioneers of SETI. You might remember the Jodie Foster movie Contact, well Jodie Foster’s character was based on Jill.

The character of Dr. Arroway was modeled after two of the pioneering radio astronomers of the 1930s and 1940s, Grote Reber and John Kraus; both men were ham radio operators at an early age. Another model for the character’s work was real-life SETI researcher Jill Cornell Tarter.

Brian_May_aim-shirtThe plan with Asteroid Day Update is to bring you one fresh episode each month. Our partner, the European Space Agency is giving away a special edition #AIMMission t-shirt each month signed by our co-founder and Queen guitarist Dr. Brian May. Just ask an asteroid related question using #AIMMission on Twitter and the best question will be answered by an asteroid expert in next month’s episode. As we are doing this series for you it would be great if you could give us some feedback in the comments below or via social media.

Special Thanks to Scott Manley who did a great job with the first episode and to Jill Tarter for taking the time for the interview and thank you for watching and for being an important part of this wonderful global movement!


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Time Lapse: Watch One Earth Year From Space


For the first time, a camera has recorded the entire, fully lit Earth for a year—every day, multiple times a day. At high speed, the world seems to spin in place as each continent experiences its share of daylight. Storms, snow, and even an eclipse pass by. The camera is part of the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a project of NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Air Force.

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Screen the film 51 Degrees North at your event and watch for free on June 30!

Our story began in February 2014 when Dr. Brian May, astrophysicist and famed guitarist for the rock band QUEEN, began working with Grigorij Richters, the director of a new film titled 51 Degrees North, a fictional story of an asteroid impact on London and the resulting human condition. May composed the music for the film and suggested that Richters preview it at Starmus, an event organized by Dr. Garik Israelian and attended by esteemed astrophysicists, scientists and artists, including Dr. Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and Rick Wakeman. The result was the beginning of discussions that would lead to the launch of Asteroid Day in 2015. It is now 2016 and event organizers have the opportunity to view and screen 51 Degrees North at their local Asteroid Day event for free.

The film introduces Damon Miller, a filmmaker grappling with the pressures of an impoverished profession and a dissolving relationship. One routine assignment will change his life as he is involved in the disturbing research into Near-Earth Objects.

The film brings asteroid awareness into the realm of entertainment, suitable for all global Asteroid Day events. The film is available in English, Czech, French, Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Polish. This also includes subtitles in: Arabic, Bulgarian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish Greek, Hebrew, Norwegian, Romanian, Serbian, Swedish. To gain access to the film to screen at your event, send in your film request to events@asteroidday.org. Additionally, the film will be available on Asteroid Day for 24 hours on our website for anyone to enjoy, free of charge!

More details about the film, here.

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Asteroid Impact Mission: Asteroid touchdown

This video was uploaded by the European Space Agency, an official Asteroid Day partner.


The European Space Agency released a new video about their proposed asteroid mission, Asteroid Impact Mission (aka AIM). Head of the mission and Asteroid Day supporter, Ian Carnelli told us: “As studies progress we’re learning more and more about delivering this micro-rover on Didymoon’s surface. We’ll need to fly as close at 200m from its surface, it’s never been done before!! The Rosetta team as well as our guidance and navigation experts at ESA and industry are crunching numbers. They’re doing an amazing job, lots of work still remains as we look at many different approaches and run so-called Monte Carlo analyses to estimate the impact of all the possible little perturbations. The video is intended to provide an idea of what would happen nominally, with realistic bouncing due to the very small gravity environment.”

The video description:

“As part of ESA’s proposed Asteroid Impact Mission would come the Agency’s next landing on a small body since Rosetta’s Philae lander reached 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014.

In 2022 the Mascot-2 microlander would be deployed from the main AIM spacecraft to touch down on the approximately 170-m diameter ‘Didymoon’, in orbit around the larger 700-m diameter Didymos asteroid.

The 15 kg Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout-2 (Mascot-2) is building on the heritage of DLR’s Mascot-1 already flying on Japan’s Hayabusa-2. Launched in 2014, the latter will land on asteroid Ryugu in 2018.

Mascot-2 would be deployed from AIM at about 5 cm/s, and remain in contact with its mothership as it falls through a new inter-satellite communications system. Didymoon’s gravity levels will only be a few thousandths of Earth’s, so the landing would be relatively gentle, although multiple bounces may take place before it comes to rest.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) would help AIM to pinpoint its microlander’s resting place from orbit. In case of a landing in a non-illuminated area, a spring-like ‘mobility mechanism’ would let the microlander jump to another location. Onboard GNC ‘guidance navigation and control’ sensors would gather details of the landing both for scientific reasons and to determine the microlander’s orientation for deployment of the solar array to keep it supplied with sufficient power for several weeks of surface operations.

As well as a solar array, AIM would also deploy its low frequency radar LFR instrument, while cameras perform visible and thermal surface imaging. LFR would send radar signals right through the body, to be detected by AIM on Didymoon’s far side, to provide detailed subsurface soundings of an asteroid’s internal structure for the first time ever.

Then Mascot-2 would repeat these measurements after Didymoon has been impacted by the NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) probe, to assess the extent of structural changes induced by this impact event. AIM and DART together are known as the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment mission.”

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Carolyn Shoemaker: Advice to young women and men who might be interested in astronomy

Hillary Aiken and I had the rare opportunity to sit down with Asteroid Day supporter Carolyn Shoemaker, the legendary astronomer who co-discovered Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 (with David Levy). She once held the record for most comets discovered by an individual. Over the next few weeks we will post the full interview but here is an excerpt in which she gives some advice to young women (and also men) who might be interested in astronomy. It’s not just about “looking at the sky and find things”, Carolyn says. You have to “take as much math as possible and that’s what turns a lot of young people off… they need to take physics, they need to take chemistry and above all they need to know how to use computers”, she says.

Watch the full video (above) or download it directly from Vimeo here.

A still from the shoot:

Asteroid Day supporter, astronomer and co-discoverer of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 Carolyn Shoemaker gives a rare interview.
Asteroid Day supporter, astronomer and co-discoverer of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 Carolyn Shoemaker gives a rare interview.







Special Thanks to:

Carolyn Shoemaker and her son Phred.

Interviewer Hillary Aiken

Location: The Peaks, Senior Living Community

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