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Lucy Spacecraft’s Surprise Discovery: Dinkinesh Reveals Binary Nature

Lucy spacecraft’s surprise: Dinkinesh, a main-belt asteroid, revealed its binary nature, setting the stage for the mission’s study of Trojan asteroids.



The Lucy spacecraft, on its way to study the Trojan asteroids in Jupiter’s orbit, recently made an unexpected detour. During a test run past a main-belt asteroid named Dinkinesh, Lucy’s tracking system revealed a surprising revelation. Rather than encountering a single asteroid, Lucy discovered that Dinkinesh is actually a binary system, consisting of one larger asteroid and one smaller moonlet. This unexpected find has provided valuable insights and sets the stage for Lucy’s upcoming mission objectives.

When the Lucy spacecraft encountered asteroid Dinkinesh, it found 2 asteroids instead of 1. Lucy captured this image, showing the smaller satellite slightly behind the main asteroid, at 12:55 p.m. EDT (16:55 UTC) on November 1, 2023. At that time, the light travel time between the spacecraft and the asteroid – in the main asteroid belt – was some 30 minutes. The spacecraft and the asteroid were some 300 million miles (500 million km) from Earth. Yet Lucy was so perfectly targeted that it came within a minute of its scheduled closest approach, to pass approximately 270 miles (430 km) above the surface of Dinkinesh. Image via NASA/ Goddard/ SwRI/ Johns Hopkins APL/ NOAO.

Dinkinesh’s Binary Nature Unveiled:
The name Dinkinesh, meaning “marvelous” in Amharic, perfectly encapsulates the astonishment experienced by the Lucy mission team when they realized the true nature of this asteroid. Initial glimpses of Dinkinesh in September indicated its potential binary nature, as its brightness changed over time. This phenomenon resembled the method used by astronomers to identify planets by observing the fluctuation in brightness when they pass in front of stars.

Lucy’s latest images of Dinkinesh confirmed the existence of the binary system. The parent asteroid was estimated to be about 0.5 miles (790 m) wide, while the moonlet measured approximately 0.15 miles (220 m) in size. This successful mini-mission made Dinkinesh and its moon the smallest main-belt asteroids ever to be well-imaged by a spacecraft, marking a significant milestone for scientific exploration.

Lucy’s Next Destination:
After this unexpected encounter with Dinkinesh, Lucy’s trajectory now sets its sights on future objectives. In December 2024, the spacecraft will undergo a second gravity assist from Earth, propelling it toward the orbit of Jupiter. Once there, Lucy will embark on its primary mission of studying the Trojan asteroids. These asteroids have been captured by Jupiter’s gravitational pull and are believed to have coexisted with the gas giant for billions of years within its orbit around the sun.

Alteration of Lucy’s Mission Plan:
Dinkinesh was not originally part of the Lucy mission’s itinerary. The spacecraft’s original plan involved visiting the main-belt asteroid (52246) Donaldjohanson in 2025, followed by a tour of nine Trojan asteroids beginning in 2033. However, the discovery of a conveniently located small asteroid presented an opportunity for Lucy to make an additional visit. Raphael Marschall of the Nice Observatory in France identified Dinkinesh, estimated to be 0.4 miles (700 m) in size. The mission team adjusted Lucy’s course, bringing it closer to the asteroid, and successfully executed the flyby from a mere 270 miles (430 km) away.

Lucy’s Journey So Far:
Launched in October 2021, Lucy underwent its first flyby of Earth a year later. On January 24, 2023, the mission team added Dinkinesh as a new target, deviating from the original plan. Through a strategic maneuver, Lucy managed to observe this fascinating asteroid two years ahead of schedule. It is worth noting that Dinkinesh derives its name from the Ethiopian term for the famous human ancestor fossil known as Lucy, after which the spacecraft’s mission is named.

Significance of the Tracking System:
Lucy’s encounter with Dinkinesh served as an excellent test for the spacecraft’s innovative tracking system. This system was developed to overcome the longstanding challenge of accurately determining the spacecraft’s distance from an asteroid and precisely pointing the cameras. By approaching Dinkinesh at a similar angle relative to the sun as it will during the Trojan asteroid encounters, scientists were able to practice under comparable conditions well in advance of the main mission.

Artist’s concept of the Lucy spacecraft making a close flyby of an asteroid. Image via NASA.

The Lucy spacecraft’s unexpected discovery of Dinkinesh’s binary nature during its test run past the main-belt asteroid has provided valuable insights into the diversity of celestial bodies within our solar system. This surprise encounter showcases the capabilities of Lucy’s tracking system and its ability to adapt to unforeseen opportunities. As Lucy continues its journey, it promises to unravel more mysteries surrounding the Trojan asteroids and contribute to our understanding of the fascinating celestial objects that reside within Jupiter’s orbit.

Source: NASA

Check out this article from Earthsky https://earthsky.org/space/lucy-spacecraft-to-visit-asteroid-nov-1-2023/?mc_cid=c07b5b936a&mc_eid=36fb49e54a

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Charles Elliot: A writer who casts his net wide, exploring worlds on land, sea, and in the stars. Passionate about fishing, cooking, and model building. Family man, storyteller, and aspiring filmmaker.

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Telescope Array detects second highest-energy cosmic ray ever



Newswise — In 1991, the University of Utah Fly’s Eye experiment detected the highest-energy cosmic ray ever observed. Later dubbed the Oh-My-God particle, the cosmic ray’s energy shocked astrophysicists. Nothing in our galaxy had the power to produce it, and the particle had more energy than was theoretically possible for cosmic rays traveling to Earth from other galaxies. Simply put, the particle should not exist.

The Telescope Array has since observed more than 30 ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, though none approaching the Oh-My-God-level energy. No observations have yet revealed their origin or how they are able to travel to the Earth.

On May 27, 2021, the Telescope Array experiment detected the second-highest extreme-energy cosmic ray. At 2.4 x 1020eV, the energy of this single subatomic particle is equivalent to dropping a brick on your toe from waist height. Led by the University of Utah (the U) and the University of Tokyo, the Telescope Array consists of 507 surface detector stations arranged in a square grid that covers 700 km(~270 miles2) outside of Delta, Utah in the state’s West Desert. The event triggered 23 detectors at the north-west region of the Telescope Array, splashing across 48 km2 (18.5 mi2). Its arrival direction appeared to be from the Local Void, an empty area of space bordering the Milky Way galaxy.

“The particles are so high energy, they shouldn’t be affected by galactic and extra-galactic magnetic fields. You should be able to point to where they come from in the sky,” said John Matthews, Telescope Array co-spokesperson at the U and co-author of the study. “But in the case of the Oh-My-God particle and this new particle, you trace its trajectory to its source and there’s nothing high energy enough to have produced it. That’s the mystery of this—what the heck is going on?” 

An animation replicating the timing and intensity of secondary particles hitting the Telescope Array surface detection.

In their observation that published on Nov. 24, 2023, in the journal Science, an international collaboration of researchers describe the ultra-high-energy cosmic ray, evaluate its characteristics, and conclude that the rare phenomena might follow particle physics unknown to science. The researchers named it the Amaterasu particle after the sun goddess in Japanese mythology. The Oh-My-God and the Amaterasu particles were detected using different observation techniques, confirming that while rare, these ultra-high energy events are real.

“These events seem like they’re coming from completely different places in the sky. It’s not like there’s one mysterious source,” said John Belz, professor at the U and co-author of the study. “It could be defects in the structure of spacetime, colliding cosmic strings. I mean, I’m just spit-balling crazy ideas that people are coming up with because there’s not a conventional explanation.”

Natural particle accelerators

Cosmic rays are echoes of violent celestial events that have stripped matter to its subatomic structures and hurled it through universe at nearly the speed of light. Essentially cosmic rays are charged particles with a wide range of energies consisting of positive protons, negative electrons, or entire atomic nuclei that travel through space and rain down onto Earth nearly constantly.

Cosmic rays hit Earth’s upper atmosphere and blasts apart the nucleus of oxygen and nitrogen gas, generating many secondary particles. These travel a short distance in the atmosphere and repeat the process, building a shower of billions of secondary particles that scatter to the surface. The footprint of this secondary shower is massive and requires that detectors cover an area as large as the Telescope Array. The surface detectors utilize a suite of instrumentation that gives researchers information about each cosmic ray; the timing of the signal shows its trajectory and the amount of charged particles hitting each detector reveals the primary particle’s energy.


Because particles have a charge, their flight path resembles a ball in a pinball machine as they zigzag against the electromagnetic fields through the cosmic microwave background. It’s nearly impossible to trace the trajectory of most cosmic rays, which lie on the low- to middle-end of the energy spectrum. Even high-energy cosmic rays are distorted by the microwave background. Particles with Oh-My-God and Amaterasu energy blast through intergalactic space relatively unbent. Only the most powerful of celestial events can produce them.   

“Things that people think of as energetic, like supernova, are nowhere near energetic enough for this. You need huge amounts of energy, really high magnetic fields to confine the particle while it gets accelerated,” said Matthews.

Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays must exceed 5 x 1019 eV. This means that a single subatomic particle carries the same kinetic energy as a major league pitcher’s fast ball and has tens of millions of times more energy than any human-made particle accelerator can achieve. Astrophysicists calculated this theoretical limit, known as the Greisen–Zatsepin–Kuzmin (GZK) cutoff, as the maximum energy a proton can hold traveling over long distances before the effect of interactions of the microwave background radiation take their energy. Known source candidates, such as active galactic nuclei or black holes with accretion disks emitting particle jets, tend to be more than 160 million light years away from Earth. The new particle’s 2.4 x 1020 eV and the Oh-My-God particle’s 3.2 x 1020 eV easily surpass the cutoff.

Researchers also analyze cosmic ray composition for clues of its origins. A heavier particle, like iron nuclei, are heavier, have more charge and are more susceptible to bending in a magnetic field than a lighter particle made of protons from a hydrogen atom. The new particle is likely a proton. Particle physics dictates that a cosmic ray with energy beyond the GZK cutoff is too powerful for the microwave background to distort its path, but back tracing its trajectory points towards empty space.

“Maybe magnetic fields are stronger than we thought, but that disagrees with other observations that show they’re not strong enough to produce significant curvature at these ten-to-the-twentieth electron volt energies,” said Belz. “It’s a real mystery.” 

Expanding the footprint 

The Telescope Array is uniquely positioned to detect ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. It sits at about 1,200 m (4,000 ft), the elevation sweet-spot that allows secondary particles maximum development, but before they start to decay. Its location in Utah’s West Desert provides ideal atmospheric conditions in two ways: the dry air is crucial because humidity will absorb the ultraviolet light necessary for detection; and the region’s dark skies are essential, as light pollution will create too much noise and obscure the cosmic rays.

Astrophysicists are still baffled by the mysterious phenomena. The Telescope Array is in the middle of an expansion that that they hope will help crack the case. Once completed, 500 new scintillator detectors will expand the Telescope Array will sample cosmic ray-induced particle showers across 2,900 km (1,100 mi), an area nearly the size of Rhode Island. The larger footprint will hopefully capture more events that will shed light on what’s going on.

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Unveiling the Mysteries of Cosmic Rays: Rare Ultra-High-Energy Particle Traced Beyond the Milky Way

Scientists detect rare ultra-high-energy particle from beyond the Milky Way, unraveling cosmic mysteries. Cosmic rays, space exploration, scientific breakthrough.



Artist’s illustration of ultra-high-energy cosmic ray astronomy to clarify extremely energetic phenomena. 

In a groundbreaking discovery, space scientists have made an astonishing observation that sheds light on the perplexing origins of cosmic rays. The findings, recently published in the renowned journal Science, unveil the detection of an exceptionally rare and ultra-high-energy particle believed to have journeyed to Earth from beyond our own Milky Way galaxy. This remarkable breakthrough opens up new avenues for understanding the vast cosmos and the forces that shape it.

Cosmic Rays: Nature’s Mysterious Messengers:
Cosmic rays are energetic particles that traverse the vast expanse of space before reaching our planet. While low-energy cosmic rays can be attributed to our sun, the presence of high-energy cosmic rays has long puzzled scientists. These highly charged particles are believed to originate from distant galaxies and extragalactic sources, but their precise origins have remained elusive.

A Particle of Unprecedented Energy:
The research team, composed of space scientists from around the world, has now detected an ultra-high-energy particle that has surpassed all previous records. The energy of this subatomic particle defies comprehension, described by the researchers as equivalent to dropping a brick on your toe from waist height. This astonishing particle rivals the famed “Oh-My-God” particle, which was first discovered in 1991 and held the title of the most energetic cosmic ray ever observed until now.

Unveiling the Cosmic Origins:
The detection of this rare ultra-high-energy particle provides a crucial piece of evidence in unraveling the cosmic puzzle. By analyzing its trajectory and energy signature, scientists can glean invaluable insights into the mechanisms and environments responsible for its creation. This breakthrough not only expands our understanding of cosmic rays but also offers a glimpse into the immense cosmic forces at play beyond our galactic home.

Advancing Scientific Knowledge:
The implications of this discovery extend far beyond the realm of cosmic rays. By studying these particles, scientists hope to unlock the mysteries of the universe, including the nature of dark matter, the formation of galaxies, and the evolution of cosmic structures. The identification of an ultra-high-energy particle from beyond the Milky Way represents a significant milestone in our quest for knowledge about the universe’s origins.

Collaboration and Technological Innovations:
The detection of this exceptional particle is the result of a collaborative effort among scientists utilizing cutting-edge observational and data analysis techniques. Advanced detectors and observatories, such as ground-based observatories and space-based telescopes, have played a pivotal role in capturing and analyzing the elusive cosmic rays. This research highlights the importance of international collaboration and technological advancements in pushing the boundaries of scientific exploration.

The discovery of an ultra-high-energy particle originating from beyond the Milky Way marks a monumental achievement in the field of space science. By unraveling the enigmatic origins of cosmic rays, scientists inch closer to understanding the vast cosmic tapestry that surrounds us. This remarkable finding paves the way for further discoveries, fueling our insatiable curiosity about the universe and reinforcing the importance of ongoing scientific exploration. As we continue to explore the depths of space, we can only wonder what other cosmic secrets await our discovery.




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Leonids Meteor Shower: Astronomy’s Spectacular Display or Disappointment?

Leonids: a renowned meteor shower in astronomy, but this year’s display may disappoint.



The Leonid meteor shower has long been renowned for its spectacular displays, etching its name in the annals of astronomy. While the shower is set to reach its peak on Saturday morning, expectations for this year’s event should be tempered. The Leonids have a rich history of meteor storms, with unforgettable shows observed in 1799, 1833, and 1966 when tens of thousands of meteors streaked across the sky every hour. More recent displays in 1999, 2001, and 2002 still impressed, though with fewer meteors per hour.

However, it is essential to dispel any notion that this year’s Leonids will rival the legendary shows of the past. Regrettably, many were led to believe that the same level of celestial fireworks could be expected annually. The truth is that the 2023 Leonids are likely to be underwhelming, with weak activity and prolonged periods without visible meteors.

So, while hopes may be high for a memorable meteor shower this weekend, it’s important to manage expectations and appreciate the natural fluctuations that make each celestial event unique. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonids

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