Want to Blow Up an Asteroid? It’s Harder than You Think

Science fiction is filled with stories of astronauts blowing up asteroids just before they strike the Earth. But, doing so could be even worse than doing nothing, as fragments of these bodies could impact the Earth in multiple locations, like a shotgun blast. Now, new research from Johns Hopkins University shows even attempting to blow up an asteroid might prove futile. Computer models of impacts between two asteroids show that such events would likely result in short-term fragmenting of the bodies, but these pieces would come together again within hours, recreating a mass much like the original asteroid. Researchers are on the lookout for asteroids and comets heading toward the Earth that could endanger areas from small cities to the entire planet.

Read More Want to Blow Up an Asteroid? It’s Harder than You Think
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The Big Mystery of the Kuiper Belt — a Lack of Small Objects

The Kuiper Belt contains few small bodies, according to a new report from the Southwest Research Institute. This collection of rocks and ice surrounds our planetary system like a massive doughnut, larger than the orbit of Neptune. Photographs taken of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, show few craters, suggesting that the Kuiper Belt, in which Pluto resides, contains few small objects, less than a mile in diameter. Researchers are uncertain why the grouping contains so few small bodies.

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Stars Fly Past Planet, Saving World from Isolation

Astronomers have long theorized that planetary systems can be affected by stars passing near solar systems. However, direct evidence of this has never been seen, until now.
Sitting 300 light years from Earth, the star HD 106906 is accompanied by a planet 11 times the size of Jupiter, orbiting the pair of binary stars 738 times further away than the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Computer simulations show that roughly 12 million years ago, another pair of stars passed the system, altering the orbit of this giant world, pulling it far from its stellar companions. Had the encounter not taken place, this world would have crashed into the stars around which it orbits.

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The Reasons We May Soon Find Planet Nine

Since 2016, astronomers have been searching for a ninth planet some researchers believe may be hiding at the edge of our family of planets. The orbits of some trans-Neptunian objects, or TNO’s, suggest that another planet is waiting out there to be discovered. Astronomers at the University of Michigan recently released a study suggesting that such a world will likely be found, or ruled out, in the next 10 to 15 years, as new observatories come online. Pluto was once considered to be the ninth planet, by was re-designated as a dwarf planet in 2006.

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Did Global Warming Kill off the Dinosaurs?

Most dinosaurs were wiped out 66 million years ago, but scientists are still trying to piece together exactly what caused their demise. An asteroid, at least as large as Mount Everest, struck the Earth at that time, likely leading to the extinction of all non-avian dinosaurs. However, new research suggests that volcanic activity at Deccan Traps in India may have doomed the animals before the asteroid struck off the coast of Mexico. A series of four massive pulses of eruptions there released enough lava to build a ring one mile thick and five miles across that would encircle the globe. These events also released vast quantities of poisonous gas into the atmosphere, and created extreme global warming, raising temperatures worldwide. This climate change may have weakened the line of dinosaurs so much, they were unable to withstand the additional climate change which happened once the asteroid hit the Earth.

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Water, Water Everywhere — On Mars?

The Mars Express orbiter has taken photos of river valleys on the Red Planet, showing evidence that liquid water once flowed across the Martian landscape. Once thought to be completely dry, Mars is now known to have water ice beneath its surface, up to 100 meters, or 330 feet, in depth. Billions of years ago, Mars lost most of its atmosphere, and water on its surface disappeared. Astronomers are still uncertain what caused this dramatic climatic change on the Red Planet.

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Hubble Reveals Origins of Hippocamp — The Tiny Moon of Neptune that Shouldn’t Be There

Hippocamp is one of the smallest, and darkest, moons of Neptune. Known to astronomers as “The Moon that Shouldn’t be There,” it orbits the giant planet at a distance so close to the larger moon of Proteus that it should have already been destroyed. Researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope have now concluded that this tiny satellite, just 20 miles in diameter, broke off of its larger neighbor billions of years ago, following an impact with a comet. When Voyager 2 visited Neptune in 1989, it photographed a massive impact crater on Proteus, which is likely evidence of this ancient collision.

Read More Hubble Reveals Origins of Hippocamp — The Tiny Moon of Neptune that Shouldn’t Be There

Water Could Form on the Surface of the Moon, Thanks to the Solar Wind

The Moon was once thought to be completely dry and barren. In recent years, however, a number of spacecraft have revealed evidence for water ice in craters near the lunar poles. Most astronomers believed this ice was placed there through collisions with water-rich comets. A new study from NASA now shows that the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun, can interact with materials on the lunar surface, producing water. Supplies of water will be essential for the human exploration of the solar system.

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Saying Goodbye to Opportunity — Here’s the Last Image

The Opportunity rover on Mars has now been declared dead, the victim of a massive sandstorm which covered the planet in June 2018. The final image ever taken by the Opportunity rover on the Red Planet highlights the moment the spacecraft fell silent. The top of the image shows a darkened sky from the massive sand storm last June, and the bottom becomes completely dark, as the vehicle lost power forever. NASA officials tried for months to revive the rover, without success.

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