Earlier this month, millions of Americans were treated to a rare spectacle: a total solar eclipse that was visible from coast-to-coast. While Florence, a massive asteroid that will zip past our planet on September 1, will not overshadow the stunning event, it will make history of its own. According to Paul Chodas at the Center for Near Earth Object (NEO) Studies, the space rock is the largest to pass this close to our planet since the first near-Earth asteroid was discovered over a century ago.
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In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which promotes and safeguards the science of astronomy, passed a resolution that classified all celestial bodies, (except satellites) in our solar system into three distinct categories – planets, dwarf planets, and small Solar System Bodies. To qualify as a planet, the body had to orbit around the sun, have sufficient mass for its self-gravity to pull it into a round shape, and have cleared the neighborhood around its orbit. Since Pluto did not meet the third criterion, it was downgraded to a dwarf planet.
About forty light years, or 235 trillion miles, away in the constellation Aquarius lies a planetary system with seven Earth-sized planets, at least three of which could be habitable. The exciting news was revealed to the public at a NASA press briefing and through the release of a study in the journal Nature on February 22.
In January 2016, Professor Mike Brown, the California Institute of Technology researcher who demoted Pluto to dwarf status, reported that he and some colleagues had discovered evidence of a ninth planet in our solar system. Dubbed Planet X, the gaseous giant believed to be two to three times the size of Earth, purportedly has a highly elliptical orbit and takes over 20,000 earth years to revolve around the sun. Though exciting, the find was based on computer simulations, which means that no one has ever seen this mysterious planet.
To get into the spirit of last night’s NFL Championship game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) also decided to play “ball.” In a video released by NASA, Tim Kopra is seen gently tossing a football down the length of the ISS. By the time it got to the end, the ball had covered an astounding 564,664-yards or the distance of 5,646.64 football fields!
NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program has discovered and cataloged over 15,000 Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) since they began scouring the skies in 1998. However, every now and again, one manages to escape their powerful telescopes and keen eyes. This was certainly the case with asteroid 2017 BS32, which was discovered on January 30 just three days before its close encounter with Earth.
On November 19, after two days aboard a Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft, NASA’s Peggy Whitson, along with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and rookie ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, docked at the International Space Station (ISS). In doing so, America’s most experienced female astronaut became the oldest woman in space, breaking the former record set by Barbara Morgan who reached the ISS at age 55.
The Hubble Space Telescope that has been orbiting the Earth since 1990, has and continues to reveal the secrets of planets, stars, and galaxies that lie trillions of miles away. In 2018, it will finally be retired and replaced by the larger, and more powerful, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The announcement, made by NASA on November 2, culminates a 20-year quest to build a state of the art telescope that cost $8.7 billion and required the construction of new assembly and testing facilities