Cape Canaveral, Dec 18 (AP/UNB) — Astronomers have spotted the farthest known object in our solar system — and they've nicknamed the pink cosmic body "Farout."
The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center announced the discovery Monday.
"Farout" is about 120 astronomical units away — that's 120 times the distance between Earth and the sun, or 11 billion miles. The previous record-holder was the dwarf planet Eris at 96 astronomical units. Pluto, by comparison, is 34 astronomical units away.
The Carnegie Institution's Scott Sheppard said the object is so far away and moving so slowly it will take a few years to determine its orbit. At that distance, it could take more than 1,000 years to orbit the sun.
Sheppard and his team spied the dwarf planet in November using a telescope in Hawaii. Their finding was confirmed by a telescope in Chile.
"I actually uttered "farout" when I first found this object, because I immediately noticed from its slow movement that it must be far out there," Sheppard wrote in an email. "It is the slowest moving object I have ever seen and is really out there."
It is an estimated 310 miles (500 kilometers) across and believed to be round. Its pink shade indicates an ice-rich object. Little else is known.
The discovery came about as the astronomers were searching for the hypothetical Planet X, a massive planet believed by some to be orbiting the sun from vast distances, well beyond Pluto.
Washington, Dec 11 (AP/UNB) — NASA's first look at a tiny asteroid shows the space rock is more moist and studded with boulders than originally thought.
Scientists on Monday released the first morsels of data collected since their spacecraft Osiris-Rex hooked up last week with the asteroid Bennu, which is only about three blocks wide and weighs about 80 million tons (73 million metric tons). Bennu regularly crosses Earth's orbit and will come perilously close in about 150 years.
There's no liquid water on the asteroid, but there's plenty of it in the form of wet clay. Project scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona said the blueish space rock is "a little more rugged of an environment than we expected" with hundreds of 33-foot (10 meter) boulders, instead of just one or two.
There's also a bigger 16--foot (50-meter) boulder on Bennu, which looks like two cones put together with a bulge on its waistline.
"There's evidence of liquid water in Bennu's past," said NASA scientist Amy Simon. "This is great news. This is a surprise."
Scientists think Bennu is a leftover from the beginning of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago when planets tried to form and some failed. Lauretta said it looks like Bennu was once a chunk of a bigger asteroid that probably had water in it.
When Osiris-Rex starts orbiting Bennu in January — no easy feat since its gravity is 100,000 times less than Earth's — it will be the smallest object that a human-made spacecraft has circled.
Scientists will spend a year scouting the space rock for a good location and then in 2020 it will dive close to the surface and a robotic arm will shoot nitrogen puffs into the soil and collect grains of dirt.
Those asteroid bits will be returned to Earth in 2023.
The $800 million Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its odometer read 1.2 billion miles (2 billion kilometers) as of last week. Both the spacecraft and asteroid's names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.
Beijing, Dec 8 (AP/UNB) — China launched a ground-breaking mission Saturday to land a spacecraft on the largely unexplored far side of the moon, demonstrating its growing ambitions as a space power to rival Russia, the European Union and the U.S.
A Long March 3B rocket carrying a lunar probe blasted off at 2:23 a.m. from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province in southwestern China, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
With its Chang'e 4 mission, China hopes to be the first country to make a soft landing, which is a landing of a spacecraft during which no serious damage is incurred. The moon's far side is also known as the dark side because it faces away from Earth and remains comparatively unknown. It has a different composition than sites on the near side, where previous missions have landed.
If successful, the mission would propel the Chinese space program to a leading position in one of the most important areas of lunar exploration.
China landed its Yutu, or "Jade Rabbit," rover on the moon five years ago and plans to send its Chang'e 5 probe there next year and have it return to Earth with samples — the first time that will have been done since 1976. A crewed lunar mission is also under consideration.
Chang'e 4 is also a lander-rover combination and will explore both above and below the lunar surface after arriving at the South Pole-Aitken basin's Von Karman crater following a 27-day journey.
It will also perform radio-astronomical studies that, because the far side always faces away from Earth, will be "free from interference from our planet's ionosphere, human-made radio frequencies and auroral radiation noise," space industry expert Leonard David wrote on the website Space.com.
It may also carry plant seeds and silkworm eggs, according to Xinhua.
Chang'e is the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology.
China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, making it only the third country after Russia and the U.S. to do so. It has put a pair of space stations into orbit, one of which is still operating as a precursor to a more than 60-ton station that is due to come online in 2022. The launch of a Mars rover is planned for the mid-2020s.
To facilitate communication between controllers on Earth and the Chang'e 4 mission, China in May launched a relay satellite named Queqiao, or "Magpie Bridge," after an ancient Chinese folk tale.
China's space program has benefited from cooperation with Russia and European nations, although it was excluded from the 420-ton International Space Station, mainly due to U.S. legislation barring such cooperation amid concerns over its strong military connections. Its program also suffered a rare setback last year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.
Beijing, Dec 5 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Chinese scientists have revealed the origin and population history of the golden snub-nosed monkey in a recent study, the Science and Technology Daily reported Wednesday.
An endangered species, golden snub-nosed monkeys are mainly found in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces, as well as Shennongjia Nature Reserve in Hubei Province, with less than 20,000 living in the wild, according to the newspaper.
Scientists from Yunnan University and the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences under the Chinese Academy of Sciences analyzed multiple genomic markers of golden snub-nosed monkeys from different geographic populations. The result reveals the species' diffusion process and the gene flow among monkeys from different geographic origins.
Based on the demographic simulation analyses, scientists believe the ancestral population first widely lived in the mountainous areas of central and southwestern China, then the influence of paleoclimatic changes led to more diverse geographic populations.
The research has a broad significance for the protection of this endangered species as well as the research in Chinese biogeography.
The research was published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Cape Canaveral, Dec 4 (AP/UNB) — After a two-year chase, a NASA spacecraft arrived Monday at the ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years.
The robotic explorer Osiris-Rex pulled within 12 miles (19 kilometers) of the diamond-shaped space rock. It will get even closer in the days ahead and go into orbit around Bennu on Dec. 31. No spacecraft has ever orbited such a small cosmic body.
It is the first U.S. attempt to gather asteroid samples for return to Earth, something only Japan has accomplished so far.
Flight controllers applauded and exchanged high-fives once confirmation came through that Osiris-Rex made it to Bennu — exactly one week after NASA landed a spacecraft on Mars.
"Relieved, proud, and anxious to start exploring!" tweeted lead scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. "To Bennu and back!"
With Bennu some 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) away, it took seven minutes for word to get from the spacecraft to flight controllers at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado. The company built the spacecraft there.
Bennu is estimated to be just over 1,600 feet (500 meters) across. Researchers will provide a more precise description at a scientific meeting next Monday in Washington.
About the size of an SUV, the spacecraft will shadow the asteroid for a year, before scooping up some gravel for return to Earth in 2023.
Scientists are eager to study material from a carbon-rich asteroid like dark Bennu, which could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. As such, it's an astronomical time capsule.
A Japanese spacecraft, meanwhile, has been hanging out at another near-Earth asteroid since June, also for samples. It is Japan's second asteroid mission. This latest rock is named Ryugu and about double the size of Bennu.
Ryugu's specks should be here by December 2020, but will be far less than Osiris-Rex's promised booty.
Osiris-Rex aims to collect at least 60 grams, or 2 ounces, of dust and gravel. The spacecraft won't land, but rather use a 10-foot (3-meter) mechanical arm in 2020 to momentarily touch down and vacuum up particles. The sample container would break loose and head toward Earth in 2021.
The collection — parachuting down to Utah — would represent the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission , also named Hayabusa.
Both Bennu and Ryugu are considered potentially hazardous asteroids. That means they could smack Earth years from now. At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now.
Contact with Bennu will not significantly change its orbit or make it more dangerous to us, Lauretta stressed.
Scientists contend the more they learn about asteroids, the better equipped Earth will be in heading off a truly catastrophic strike.
The $800 million Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its odometer read 1.2 billion miles (2 billion kilometers) as of Monday.
Both the spacecraft and asteroid's names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.
Osiris-Rex is actually a NASA acronym for origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security-regolith explorer.