Buzzed, by #2014 JO25

The name is terribly mundane, but the consequences of the close pass of asteroid 2014 JO25 last week are anything but. This peanut-shaped, 1400-yards, asteroid whizzed past Earth at a distance of about 1 million miles. At 4 time the Earth-Moon distance, that seems pretty safe, but in astronomy sizes that is a buzz call.


Good news: Wednesday was the closest this asteroid has been in 400 years, and it won’t get this close again for at least 500 years. It’s not going to hit Earth, and if it were, we’d know it by now.

Somewhat disconcerting news: When the radar at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico spotted it, astronomers realized the space rock was larger than they had thought. Today’s estimate is about 0.8 miles wide.

Let us, for a moment, consider a scenario in which a 0.8-mile-wide asteroid strikes Earth. First, the magic number for total apocalypse is 60 miles. That’s how big an asteroid would need to be to wipe out human life. At six miles wide, even the asteroid that led to dinosaur extinction was much smaller than the Earth-obliterating scenario.

When physics tells me an asteroid this large would release 1031 Joules of kinetic energy, I take note. That’s how much energy the sun releases in a day. Think about that for a minute. But don’t dwell! Breathe easy.

Luckily, there’s nothing that large orbiting in our neighborhood. Instead, we’re plagued by articles like this that pop up every other month when little space rocks pass our planet 1 million miles away.


Nevermind the #trappist planets, what about the star?

The astronomy sphere exploded a few week back with the revelation of 7 rocky planets around Trappist-1, 3 of which were in the habitable zone. Best part – the star is only 40 light years away

But best to be careful before expending any energy trying to get there.

New research

show that the star is emits a lot Xrays, suggesting it is very young and will blow any atmosphere off any nearby planets within 5 billion years. So not such a great long term survival plan for humanity when our Sun destroys the Earth (also in about 5 billion years).  Keep on looking, but remember to  look at the star, not just the planets.

Chicken Asteroid #WrongWay #

99.99% of objects in the solar system orbit the Sun in the same direction – counter-clockwise as viewed from above the up above the Earth’s North pole. But, as always, there is always the odd exception to prove the rule. This newly discovered asteroid is in a giant game of chicken with Jupiter

As just published in Nature

and discussed on

Wrong-Way, Daredevil Asteroid Plays ‘Chicken’ with Jupiter

Astronomers have found a bizarre asteroid orbiting the sun in the wrong direction while playing a risky game of “chicken” with the largest planet in the solar system.

The unnamed asteroid shares Jupiter’s orbital space while moving in the opposite direction as the planet, which looks like a recipe for a collision, astronomers said. Yet somehow, the asteroid has managed to safely dodge Jupiter for at least tens of thousands of laps around the sun


The Hunt for Life #Aurora #Juno

Aurora on Earth are caused by particles from the Sun interacting with our planet’s protective magnetic field. Without that magnetic field on Earth, we would not be here. All life is entirely dependent on the shielding that our magnetic field provides. So if we are to search for life elsewhere, one good way to separate out those planets that may harbor life from those that do not, will be to search for Aurora. Except we’re not at the stage in our technology where we can image planets around other stars well enough to see aurora. So we have to find another way.

Luckily, the aurora also produces radio waves. So instead of watching, we can listen.

ET is not phoning home, but we are hearing the potential for life in our solar system

and beyond


How many planets? #PlutoIsAPlanet? #TheMoonIsAPlanet?

Is it time to restore Pluto back to the planet club?

A new effort to restore Pluto to the so-called Planet club is underway.

As reported at

Rather than focusing on “external” factors such as whether a body has cleared its orbit (the portion of the IAU criteria that Pluto failed in 2006), the new geophysical definition instead brings to the forefront the intrinsic properties of the body itself. It takes into account the fact that many of the solar system’s worlds are physically complex and geologically active, from Ceres’ ice volcano to Pluto’s slushy heart.

In essence, rather than focusing on the orbit, this proposed new definition suggests we focus on the object itself. Questions like. Is it round? Is is complex on the surface? Is it active? Unfortunately this approach may suffer the same fate as many others, in that this new definition is too open. It would result in over 100 new ‘planets’ in our solar system alone. Even our Moon would now be a planet. As such, maybe this new definition is doomed to failure.

So, adopt this new approach of Pluto-as-a-planet, at the cost of labeling 100 other objects as planets? Or leave things as they are?

Big Bang Universe origins, in your hand.



For millennia it didn’t matter. Now it plays a key role in your life. Lithium in the element in almost all disposable and rechargeable batteries, including the lithium-ion battery and the lithium iron phosphate battery. No lithium –  no smart phone, no ipad, no laptop.

Lithium always mattered to astronomy however.

Even though the Big Bang was 13.8 billion years ago, scientists have a good understanding of the nuclear reactions that produced the first elements. We can calculate exactly how much of each element and isotope should have been made. When we then compare these predictions with observations, almost everything matches. “The deuterium is bang-on, The helium is looking good. ” says Brian Fields, an astrophysicist at the University of Illinois in the US. “Lithium is the one that’s off. And it is off by a lot. There is three times less lithium than there should be, a discrepancy that has been dubbed “the primordial lithium problem”.

As reported on

But while early universe seems to lack lithium, the current cosmos has a surplus. Astronomers have found too much lithium on the surfaces of young stars, which formed relatively recently, as well as in meteors in the Solar System. There is about four times more lithium than what was supposedly made in the Big Bang, enough in the galaxy to weigh as much as 150 suns.

So, something has created excess lithium and then scattered it across the cosmos, where it eventually became incorporated into the our Solar System and, billions of years later, into the batteries of your mobile phone. The question is what?

Now new research shows solves both problems. And novae, the less famous cousins of supernovae take the credit for letting you read these words.

Big Bang, in your hand.





You can watch the announcement here.
NASA announcement of 7 Earth-like planets

A few weeks after NASA’s big announcement that we have discovered seven Earth-mass planets. As these are only 40 light years away from us, we could conceivably communicate (albeit with a 40-year delivery service). While we’re waiting, lets name them.


People are so excited, in fact, that they’re not satisfied with sticking to their scientific names, which run the standard TRAPPIST-1b to TRAPPIST-1h. Naturally, that won’t cut it for the creative types of Twitter—or for NASA, which tweeted out the naming challenge on Friday. The hashtag #7namesfor7newplanets is quickly accumulating quite a collection of suggestions for these alternate homelands, from the Greek versions of our own solar system’s Roman planetary nomenclature to referencing Star Wars, Snow White’s dwarves, popular characters in TV and literature, and more.

You can tweet your names to NASA using the hashtag #7namesfor7newplanets

Comment on this story by leaving your 7namesfor7newplanets below.

Venus, the once-beautiful goddess #ClimateChange

Venus our close sister. Almost the same size as Earth, almost the same distance from the Sun. Once a planet just like us, probably with water and a nice habitable temperature. It may even have supported some primitive life before Earth did. Then it all went wrong and now Venus is hellish. Super hot temperatures, massive thick atmosphere, covered in volcanoes, snowing metals and raining sulfuric acid.

New research from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York shows how beautiful it once was. This modelling was carried out by adapting Earth climate models and shows what happens in runaway climate change. “Many of the same tools we use to model climate change on Earth can be adapted to study climates on other planets, both past and present,” said Michael Way, a researcher at GISS. We, on Earth, got lucky. We spin faster and had less dry land, and, being further away, received less sunlight.

Now, with sudden climate change caused by human’s burning fossil fuels, our own atmosphere is following exactly what these same models predict. This study of Venus shows that it time to start looking after ourselves. When it comes to humanity, there is no plan-et B.








Volcanism, but not as we know it #MarsRock

A new rock in Algeria sheds light on the history of our little brother, Mars.

As announced on

“An unusual meteorite found in Algeria in 2012 has given scientists information about volcanic activity on Mars, and it’s not like anything we’ve ever seen on Earth. Analysis of the 6.9-ounce meteorite by an international team of scientists, has helped determine that sometime in its 4.5 billion-year history, Mars had a single volcano that erupted continuously for more than 2 billion years.”

Earth has plate tectonics, which constantly shuffle the Earths surface, like pieces of jigsaw being moved around a table. This regenerates the surface of the Earth every few thousand years of so, and so Earth volcanoes can’t get much older than that. But on Mars there is very little tectonics, and probably none at all. So a volcano can just keep going and going. The mystery of the Mars rock, solved by old volcanism




The search for planets with oxygen #HabitableZone #exoplanets

The search for life around other stars is essentially a search for a habitable zone – the area around a star where the distance is warm enough to sustain liquid water on the surface, but cold enough such that the water does not boil away or escape.

This definition of habitable zone now has to change to take into account the star itself. New research shows that winds coming off Red Giant stars can strip the planet of Oxygen. No Oxygen, no life. This means that our nearest confirmed Earth-sized exoplanet, around Proxima Centauri and only 4 light-years away, is not a good spot to go look for neighbors.

“If we want to find an exoplanet that can develop and sustain life, we must figure out which stars make the best parents,” said Vladimir Airapetian, lead author of the paper and a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We’re coming closer to understanding what kind of parent stars we need.”