Possible interstellar object detected

NASA has announced they have detected an object in our Solar System that could be a visitor, possibly an interstellar comet.If this can be confirmed it would be the first proof that objects travel between stars.

I think it’s highly likely there are objects floating around untied to the gravity of one solar system, but given the vastness of Space the may be infrequent visitors – unless there’s a lot of them.

A2017U1

Diagram showing the path of A/2017 U1.
It made its closest approach to the sun on Sept. 9 and is now
zooming away 97,200 mph (156,400 km/h) relative to the sun.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Space.com: Visitor from Far, Far Away: Interstellar Object Spotted in Our Solar System

A visitor from interstellar space has likely been spotted in our solar system for the first time ever.

The object, known as A/2017 U1, was detected last week by researchers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.

“We have been waiting for this day for decades,” Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

“It’s long been theorized that such objects exist — asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system — but this is the first such detection,” Chodas added. “So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help to confirm it.”

Chodas and other researchers base this preliminary conclusion on A/2017 U1’s hyperbolic orbit — the fact that its path is taking the body out of the solar system. Other hyperbolic objects have been spotted before, but they were nudged onto escape trajectories by gravitational interactions with planets, said Matthew Holman, director of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A/2017 U1 has had no such close encounters, Holman added. Outgassing could theoretically also push a comet onto a hyperbolic path, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with A/2017 U1, either, he said.

“All other plausible solutions don’t work out,” Holman told Space.com. “So you’re left with, this thing came from elsewhere.”

It’s unclear what exactly this thing is. When A/2017 U1 was first spotted, it was thought to be a comet (and was therefore given the moniker C/2017 U1). But further observations have revealed no evidence of a coma — the fuzzy cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet’s core — so the object’s name was amended to its current asteroidal designation.

Perhaps it’s an Interstarship Enterprise.

Philae has been found

Remember Philae, the comet lander that bounced a bit too much on the surface when it’s ground hooks didn’t work and got lost? This happened in November 2014.

The orbiter Rosetta has taken high resolution images that have enabled identification of Philae, wedged on it’s side in the shade of a rock .

ESA: PHILAE FOUND!

philae_found_large

Less than a month before the end of the mission, Rosetta’s high-resolution camera has revealed the Philae lander wedged into a dark crack on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

The images were taken on 2 September by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera as the orbiter came within 2.7 km of the surface and clearly show the main body of the lander, along with two of its three legs.

The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation, making it clear why establishing communications was so difficult following its landing on 12 November 2014.

philae_close-up_labelled_medium

“With only a month left of the Rosetta mission, we are so happy to have finally imaged Philae, and to see it in such amazing detail,” says Cecilia Tubiana of the OSIRIS camera team, the first person to see the images when they were downlinked from Rosetta yesterday.

“After months of work, with the focus and the evidence pointing more and more to this lander candidate, I’m very excited and thrilled that we finally have this all-important picture of Philae sitting in Abydos,” says ESA’s Laurence O’Rourke, who has been coordinating the search efforts over the last months at ESA, with the OSIRIS and Lander Science Operations and Navigation Center (SONC, CNES) teams.

Philae was last seen when it first touched down at Agilkia, bounced and then flew for another two hours before ending up at a location later named Abydos, on the comet’s smaller lobe.

After three days, Philae’s primary battery was exhausted and the lander went into hibernation, only to wake up again and communicate briefly with Rosetta in June and July 2015 as the comet came closer to the Sun and more power was available.

However, until today, the precise location was not known.

“This remarkable discovery comes at the end of a long, painstaking search,” says Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta Mission Manager. “We were beginning to think that Philae would remain lost forever. It is incredible we have captured this at the final hour.”

“This wonderful news means that we now have the missing ‘ground-truth’ information needed to put Philae’s three days of science into proper context, now that we know where that ground actually is!” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

I understand them wanting to find out what happened to the lost lander, but the must have used quite a bit of their resources searching.

“Now that the lander search is finished we feel ready for Rosetta’s landing, and look forward to capturing even closer images of Rosetta’s touchdown site,” adds Holger Sierks, principal investigator of the OSIRIS camera.

The discovery comes less than a month before Rosetta descends to the comet’s surface. On 30 September, the orbiter will be sent on a final one-way mission to investigate the comet from close up, including the open pits in the Ma’at region, where it is hoped that critical observations will help to reveal secrets of the body’s interior structure.

The mission is far from a failure already and this will add to knowledge gained.

Making Mars livable

Continuing on a space theme someone well know for other planet ideas makes a suggestion. In response to a link about  Latest Research Reveals a Bizarre and Vibrant Rosetta’s Comet a reply from Draco T Bastard:

We should be looking for ways to nudge those comets into Mars. Get enough mass there and Mars will become livable. It’s not at the moment due to the lack of atmosphere and electromagnetic field.

That’s probably more realistic than some of his politcal suggestions. UPDATE:

Molten core Magnetic field Of course, slamming Mars with asteroids and comets still may not be enough to re-heat it’s core and thus get its magnetic field going or replace it’s atmosphere. May have to nip out to the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud and grab a dwarf planet or two.

Not to mention slamming comets into a planet is a fairly poor solution to making a planet livable.

Worked for Earth.

UPDATE 2: TheContrarian responded:

Earth’s magnetic field comes from it’s internal dynamo. There is nothing to suggest slamming a planet with comets will do anything about reheating its core and kicking off the dynamo. Least of all anything to do with mass (look at Venus – very similar mass to earth, tiny magnetic field)

“Worked for Earth.”

Firstly it wasn’t just being slammed with comets that made earth livable but, secondly, if you have a few hundreds of million years available then go right ahead.

“May have to nip out to the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud and grab a dwarf planet or two.”

Wow…really? Just “nip” out there and shackle a dwarf planet, send it back to mars and slam it into it. Wow.

This is stupid even for you. These are events that are millions on millions on millions of the years in the making. I can’t even

I’m not sure if the reply was tongue in cheek or serious:

These are events that are millions on millions on millions of the years in the making. I can’t even

Yeah, typical RWNJ – just can’t think long term.

RWNJ = right wing nut job – very ironic, Draco would be a classic LWNJ..

Philae/comet update

It has been confirmed that after a couple of bounces Philae landed on it’s side on the comet with one of it’s three legs up in the ‘air’. It came to rest close to a cliff that prevents recharging of it’s batteries.

Now much (80%) of the science has been done the mission  is going to risk bouncing Philae into a sunnier position, with the last throw of the battery dice.

Rosetta scientists will order the dying Philae lander to “hop”. The order will be sent to Philae’s legs this evening in a bid to bounce the comet lander into a sunnier position to recharge its batteries. Read the full report here.

And:

Stuart has published his final news story of the day about the lander’s plight:

Scientists controlling the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are preparing to make a last ditch attempt to “hop” the robotic probe into a sunnier spot on the comet’s surface.

If they fail, the lander will go into hibernation. Without sufficient sunlight on its solar panels, its mission will be over.

The lander’s legs have a built-in spring action that can be commanded to fire. These commands will be uploaded tonight during an expected communications window that opens at around 21:00 GMT. There is no guarantee of success. 

Read the rest of his story here.

The Guardian have a summary:

  • Simulations suggest battery power will last long enough for tonight’s data transmission from Philae between 21:00 and 23:00 GMT.
  • Esa is considering whether to spin Philae’s flywheel (designed to keep the craft upright during flight) to ‘bounce’ the lander into a new position where its solar arrays will get more sunlight to recharge its batteries.
  • 80-90% of the intended science will have been carried out, but there’s some doubt over whether all the data will be uploaded before the lander loses all power.
  • All the lander’s instruments are working well. MUPUS and APXS instruments were used last night and the drill was activated. Esa will know this evening whether drill samples have been taken successfully. There will be more CONSERT radar data tonight, which will be used to try to locate Philae.
  • As the comet reaches its closest approach to the sun next year, there may be enough power from Philae’s solar panels to wake up the lander.
  • 84 images of the comet are being awaited from Rosetta, which will be used to try to locate the lander. There will also be descent and touchdown images relayed from Philae to Rosetta.
  • A manoeuvre command has been sent to Rosetta to keep the Philae landing area in sight over the coming days.

Everything didn’t go to plan but it was always going to be a high risk mission.

The Philae mission looks almost certain to be coming to an end. Tomorrow we will know one way or the other whether it has survived the night.

It has been an extraordinary rollercoaster. Amid all the anxiety about the lander’s limited lifetime, behind the scenes, the science teams have been working. We are promised many fascinating results but the analysis will take time.

Even if the “hop” does not succeed and Philae ends tonight, there is no way that it can be seen as anything other than a success. History has been made. Science has been advanced. And we have taken a step closer towards understanding our cosmic origins.

It’s been a fascinating and fairly successful comet encounter.

Source: The Guardian Rosetta team makes final plans to save Philae lander – as it happened

Philae has landed – cool comet contact

Philae has landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This is very cool – it’s been a long term project, Rossetta was launched ten years ago, on 2 March 2004. There’s a problem with deploying the anchor harpoons and some problems with intermittent communications (signals take 28 minutes to get to earth) but to have landed intact is a great achievement. The Guardian has a good live blog on what’s happening. http://www.theguardian.com/science/across-the-universe/live/2014/nov/12/rosetta-comet-landing-live-blog Wiki on the Rossetta mission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_(spacecraft)

Bid to land probe on comet

Taken from Rossetta on November 6

Comet2

The Rosetta Lander Imaging System (ROLIS) on Philae took this picture
three kilometres above the surface as the craft descended.

Comet approach

The Philae lander took this picture 10 km above the ‘head’
of the comet as it descended towards its landing site.