During the week, much was said about asteroids: one of them passed close to our planet, another was described as “has a very small chance of colliding with Earth in 2046” and a third fell on the Moon.
But news about outer space does not only live on space pebbles. We also got amazing pictures, unusual activity on the Sun, and even an “out of this world salad”. Check out the main astronomical subjects of the week below!
The impact on the moon
One astronomer was lucky enough to film the Moon at the exact moment an object crashed there, causing an impact big enough to create a bright flash for more than a second.
As our natural satellite has no atmosphere, meteors do not leave traces or explode in fireballs, as happens on our planet. When space rocks are large, it is possible to see the impact with instruments suitable for observing the Moon.
The salad from another world
How will astronauts feed themselves when they are on long missions away from essential foods that are only available on Earth? Scientists are always looking for solutions, and the most recent one is a salad with different types of vegetables that, theoretically, can be grown and eaten fresh in space.
The menu features peanuts, cabbage, sweet potatoes, soy, barley, among other items with adequate nutrients for a balanced diet. Of course, the hardest part is yet to come: testing growing these foods in space.
The asteroid that passed close to Earth
Ok, it wasn’t so “close”, but the approach of the asteroid 2023 EY was bigger than most of the asteroids that visit the surroundings of our planet. On Friday (17), it was closer to Earth than the Moon: about 239,000 kilometers, or 62% of the average distance between Earth and its natural satellite.
According to the researchers, it is between 13 and 29 meters in diameter, which is not very threatening. In any case, there was no chance of colliding with our planet.
The shrinking exoplanet
In the orbit of the star HD-207496, located 138 light years from Earth (practically a neighbor), there is a gaseous planet that seems to be shrinking and turning into an oceanic world. Since the system is only 520 million years old (the Solar System is over 4 billion years old) and the star is similar to the Sun, this could be an important clue about the evolution of water-covered planets like ours.
The planet has a radius 2.25 times that of Earth and a mass of 6.1 times that of Earth, indicating that its density is about 3.27 g/cm³ (gram per cubic centimeter), against 5.51 g/cm³ from the earth. In other words, it must have a large envelope of water, gas, or a mixture of both.
Sunset on Mars
Ingenuity usually only takes pictures of the Martian soil, but sometimes a piece of the sky ends up “in the crosshairs” of its camera. This time, during its 45th flight, the small helicopter captured a beautiful sunset, including “sunray” effects.
The uncontrolled crash of a rocket to Earth
After launching three satellites via a Long March 2D rocket, the vehicle’s second stage made an uncontrolled re-entry to Earth. The object burned over the region of the state of Texas, in the United States, without causing damage.
The satellites were launched by the rocket in June last year and the Chinese managed to land the first stage in a calculated zone. However, the second stage, which was supposed to become space junk until it re-entered in a more controlled manner, ended up falling into the atmosphere much earlier than expected.
The chances of asteroid 2023 DW hitting Earth
To the relief of those worried about the possibility of the asteroid 2023 DW falling to Earth (and sadness of the “come, meteor” crowd), the chances of a collision dropped even further.
The object had a 1 in 847 chance of hitting Earth on February 14, 2046, but new estimates put it at a 1 in 1,584 chance. Yeah, it will take a lot of bad luck for an impact to happen.
The Dark Plasma of the Sun
In the animation above, we see “dark plasma” coming out of a coronal mass ejection. It’s not really dark, that’s just a name astronomers have given to occasions when the plasma is colder, denser and less bright than the light of the Sun itself in the background.
This coronal mass ejection occurred on March 11th and caused incredible auroras on the 15th, in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. But the Sun did not stop its “strangeness” there: in the following days, it also emitted a coronal mass ejection considered “extremely rare”, for reaching a speed greater than 3,000 km/s.
A Star’s Last Breath
The James Webb Telescope has imaged the star WR 124 in unprecedented detail. It’s in a stage known as Wolf-Rayet, which only very massive stars go through in their lifetimes, and it should go supernova at some point (but not so soon that we can witness the event).
The star is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has already expelled 10 solar masses of material, transformed into the amazing nebula we see around. This dust is glowing in the infrared, which is why Webb was able to capture this incredible record.