Friday is Astronomy Day!

This week: explore an asteroid, a planetary system is born, and see a amateur space program take shape!

A new tool from NASA is Vesta Trek, where you can explore the surface of the asteroid Vesta from the comfort of your own browser. The data used to make the map comes from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which orbited the asteroid from July 2011 to September 2012. Users can put different overlays onto the map, to see the mineralogy, geology, and various other data maps taken of the asteroid. Interestingly, a meteorite from Vesta is one of only 3 types of extraterrestrial samples we have here on earth (the others being from the moon and Mars).

In other news, questions surrounding a picture taken by Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have been answered (to an extent. This is astrophysics, after all). The image in question shows a star surrounded by rings of debris with gaps between which could be planets forming, but has been a hot topic of debate. A research group from the University of Toronto led by Dr. Dan Tamayo claims to have evidence that the gaps are in fact caused by planetary formation due to a special resonant configuration. Whereas some scientists claim that the planets forming would be too close together to exist (they would smash into each other) Tamayo suggests that special resonant configuration keeps them apart, much like Neptune and Pluto (never having collided, despite crossing orbits).

New planets forming? Credit: Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)
New planets forming? Credit: Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)

And finally, watch this video from amateur space program Copenhagen Suborbitals of a test of their BPM-2 rocket engine. It’s cool. (You can tune in to the live test of their BPM-5 rocket engine this Sunday, 10th May at approx. 13:30 CEST)

Featured image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLAMPS/DLR/IDA

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