Three Big News Stories from Space

October 17, 2017




A trio of interesting space related news stories arrived this week.

Doomed Neutron Stars Create Blast of Light and Gravitational Waves

For the first time, NASA scientists have detected light tied to a gravitational-wave event, thanks to two merging neutron stars in the galaxy NGC 4993, located about 130 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Hydra.

Scientists at the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves dubbed GW170817 from a pair of smashing stars tied to the gamma-ray burst, encouraging astronomers to look for the aftermath of the explosion.

NASA's Swift, Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer missions, along with dozens of ground-based observatories, including the NASA-funded Pan-STARRS survey, later captured the fading glow of the blast's expanding debris.

"This is extremely exciting science," said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. "Now, for the first time, we've seen light and gravitational waves produced by the same event.

Neutron stars are the crushed, leftover cores of massive stars that previously exploded as supernovas long ago. The merging stars likely had masses between 10 and 60 percent greater than that of our Sun, but they were no wider than Washington, D.C. The pair whirled around each other hundreds of times a second, producing gravitational waves at the same frequency. As they drew closer and orbited faster, the stars eventually broke apart and merged, producing both a gamma-ray burst and a rarely seen flare-up called a "kilonova." "This is the one we've all been waiting for," said David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Asteroid Near Miss

On Oct. 12, a small asteroid designated 2012 TC4 passed by Earth at a distance of approximately 26,000 miles (42,000 kilometers). This is a little over one-tenth the distance to the Moon and very some near communications satellites. This encounter with TC4 is being used by asteroid trackers around the world to test their ability to operate as a coordinated International Asteroid Warning Network.

The asteroid is set to make another near miss in 2050. Scientists are concerned that the pull from Earth's gravity on 2050, or some other factor, could move the asteroid to a collision course in 2079.



Google Maps More of the Solar System

Google has added Mercury, Venus, Pluto and 10 more moons from other planets to Google Maps. You can view these heavenly bodies and the International Space Station here.






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