There’s an extremely rare metalliclurking between Mars and Jupiter, and it’s worth more than the entire global economy. Now, the Hubble Space Telescope has given us a closer look at the object, which is worth an estimated $10,000 quadrillion.
A new study this week in The Planetary Science Journal delves deeper than ever before into the mysteries of the asteroid 16 Psyche, one of the most massive objects in the solar system’s main asteroid belt orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, about 230 million miles from Earth. It measures about 140 miles in diameter — roughly the size of Massachusetts.
Most asteroids are made of rocks or ice. But 16 Psyche is dense and mostly made of metal, possibly the leftover core of a planet that never succeeded in forming — a so-called “protoplanet,” which had its core exposed following hit-and-run collisions that removed the body of its mantle.
The study marks the first ultraviolet (UV) observations of the celestial object. New data reveals the asteroid may be made entirely of iron and nickel — found in the dense cores of planets.
“We’ve seen meteorites that are mostly metal, but Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of iron and nickel,” lead author Dr. Tracy Becker said in a statement. “Earth has a metal core, a mantle and crust. It’s possible that as a Psyche protoplanet was forming, it was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust.”
Scientists studied the asteroid at two points in its rotation in order to view the details of both sides completely at UV wavelengths. They found the surface could be mostly iron, but warned that even a small amount of iron would dominate UV observations.
“We were able to identify for the first time on any asteroid what we think are iron oxide ultraviolet absorption bands,” Becker said. “This is an indication that oxidation is happening on the asteroid, which could be a result of the solar wind hitting the surface.”
Solar wind is the flow of charged particles from the sun’s upper atmosphere, called the corona, throughout the solar system. It’s responsible for the tails of comets as they soar across the sky, the formations of auroras and the possible “space weathering” of Psyche.
Researchers also said the asteroid became more and more reflective at deeper UV wavelengths, which could give some indication of its age.
“This is something that we need to study further,” Becker said. “This could be indicative of it being exposed in space for so long. This type of UV brightening is often attributed to space weathering.”
Metal asteroids are rare, so Psyche provides researchers with an exciting opportunity to study the inside of a planet. In 2022, NASA plans to launch the unmanned spacecraft Psyche on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to study the asteroid in an attempt to understand its history and that of similar objects — the first time a mission will visit a body made entirely of metal.
The orbiter is set to arrive at the asteroid in January 2026 to study it for nearly two years. The mission’s leader at Arizona State University estimates that the iron alone on today’s market would be worth $10,000 quadrillion — that’s a one followed by 19 zeroes.
“What makes Psyche and the other asteroids so interesting is that they’re considered to be the building blocks of the solar system,” Becker said. “To understand what really makes up a planet and to potentially see the inside of a planet is fascinating. Once we get to Psyche, we’re really going to understand if that’s the case, even if it doesn’t turn out as we expect. Any time there’s a surprise, it’s always exciting.”
Researchers toldin 2017, when the mission was confirmed, that they don’t plan to take advantage of the value of the asteroid’s composition.
“We’re going to learn about planetary formation, but we are not going to be trying to bring any of this material back and using it for industry,” Carol Polanskey, project scientist for the Psyche mission, said at the time.
Dinosaur-era bird with scythe-like beak sheds light on avian diversity – Calgary Sun
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“Amazing, small, delicate, fragile, challenging to study – all at the same time,” said Ohio University anatomy professor Patrick O’Connor, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.
“Bird fossils are particularly rare in part because they have such delicate skeletons. Hollow bones aren’t great at surviving the fossilization process,” added paleontologist and study co-author Alan Turner of Stony Brook University in New York.
“Because of this, we need to be aware that we are probably under-sampling the Mesozoic diversity of birds. A newly discovered species like Falcatakely provides a taste of the tantalizing possibility of a greater diversity of form waiting to be discovered,” Turner said.
Birds evolved from small feathered dinosaurs about 150 million years ago. Early birds retained many ancestral features including teeth. The Falcatakely fossil has a single conical tooth in the front part of the upper jaw. Falcatakely probably had a small number of teeth in life.
It belonged to an avian group, enantiornithines, that did not survive the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, ending the Cretaceous Period.
“Unlike the earliest birds such as Archaeopteryx, which in many ways still looked dinosaurian with their long tails and unspecialized snouts, enantiornithines like Falcatakely would have looked relatively modern,” Turner said.
It was in the underlying skeletal structure where its differences were more apparent, O’Connor added, with more similarities to dinosaurs like Velociraptor than modern birds.
Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation – paNOW
Rubino, who collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance the project she started five years ago, was recognized Tuesday with an innovation award from Mitacs. The Canadian not-for-profit organization receives funding from the federal government, most provinces and Yukon to honour researchers from academic institutions.
The reusable, non-washable mask is made of a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated, Rubino said.
The idea is to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers who must dispose of them in a few hours, she said, adding the technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.
The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval. It could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses, such as influenza, Rubino said.
Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits.
Clase, who is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in the engineering department at McMaster, said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work.
“It’s going to decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask,” she said, adding that the mask could also address any supply issues.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recently recommended homemade masks consist of at least three layers, with a middle, removable layer constructed from a non-woven, washable polypropylene fabric to improve filtration.
Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.
Ruzycki, who works in a lab to evaluate infiltration efficiencies of different materials for masks and respirators, is also a member of a physician-led Alberta group Masks4Canada, which is calling for stricter pandemic measures, including a provincewide policy on mandatory masks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
This rocks! Western University student spots never-before-seen asteroid – London Free Press (Blogs)
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Added Wiegert: “Astronomers around the globe are continuously monitoring near-Earth space for asteroids so this is certainly a feather in Cole’s cap.”
Gregg spotted the asteroid, given the temporary designation ALA2xH, on Nov. 18. Data collected about the asteroid was sent to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts where they determine if the observation is unique or not.
From there it goes on their near-Earth object confirmation page.
Gregg used a website called Itelescope, which allows the public to access telescopes on the internet.
“A lot of people use them for the pretty astro-photography pictures but they are quite capable of science as well,” Gregg said. “My project is proving that these small telescopes are quite capable of science.”
Despite their efforts, Gregg said they have not spotted the asteroid again “due to weather and unavailability of the telescopes.”
Gregg said he has been fascinated with space since he was camping as a boy and relished looking up at stars in the dark skies. “It sparked my interest.”
After completing his PhD in astronomy he hopes to continue his research and teach, as well.
“I’m interested in asteroids and comets and how they move; how they exist in the solar system and where they come from,” he said. “And how we can learn from our own solar system to understand how other solar systems in the galaxy.”
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