Asteroid grains help explain 'space weathering'
The asteroid 25143 Itokawa, in 2005.
February 27th, 2012
05:46 PM ET

Asteroid grains help explain 'space weathering'

Did you know that Japan has a space agency? They do, and JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) is doing some cool science with miniscule asteroid grains.

A team of Japanese scientists took a look at five tiny grains of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa and found evidence to support theories of "space weathering," that is, the changes in an asteroid's surface brought on by a continuous assault by micrometorites and solar wind.

In order for scientists to study these grains, which are merely nanometers in size, they first had to come down to Earth, and not by entering our atmosphere as meteorites. Meteorites, while material from asteroids, are assumed to have lost their surface material on entry into our planet's atmosphere. JAXA's Hayabusa spacecraft literally sent home bits of the near-Earth asteroid 25143 Itokawa for scientists to study in a capsule, which came home on June 13, 2010.

This is the first potentially space-weathered material, other than the Apollo moon rocks, available for hands-on study and observation. Previous studies of space weathering and asteroids have been conducted using spectroscopy - the study of light radiated from an object.

The five grains studied by the Japanese team indicate that space weathering isn't a single phenomenon, but should instead be understood as the effect of a combination of processes affecting the asteroid's surface.

These samples, and the study overall of space weathering, is key to understanding the formation of the solar system.

Their findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Filed under: Discoveries • In Space
Moon, Jupiter and Venus light up the sky
Planets aligned on Saturday to give stargazers a celestial delight. Jupiter is at the top and Venus is on the bottom.
February 27th, 2012
01:58 PM ET

Moon, Jupiter and Venus light up the sky

Venus, Jupiter and the crescent moon came together in a shining triangle on Saturday and Sunday night, putting on a show for stargazers from Virginia to California.

Photographer Scott Shoup went to a lake near his home in Superior, Colorado, hoping to get a shot of the moon and planets reflecting off the water.

In Iron Mountain, Michigan, Jason Asselin heard about the alignment but snow was in the forecast, so he was expecting a cloudy sky when he went outside on Saturday night. He was "surprised and happy to find out that the clouds actually weren't there, and I was able to see Venus, Jupiter and the Moon very clearly." He grabbed his camera and tripod and shared a few shots. (Venus is the one closest to the moon.)

Matt Hartman, a photographer in Los Angeles, California, set up his tripod on the balcony and shot photos every 10 seconds from 7 to 9:30 p.m. to create this time-lapse video of the objects  disappearing from view as clouds move in.

Hartman often shoots celestial happenings and says, "It’s always a real pain to get things in space because you're moving, the things in space are moving, and space is moving."

If you enjoy counting stars and tracing comet tails, we want to hear from you at CNN iReport. All cool space and science stories are welcome!

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Filed under: In Space • iReport • News


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