The most extensive plans require some luck, even in space.
In October 2022, AJ The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or Webb) is seen as CharikloThese are small ringed asteroids blocking stars. This event, called the cloud, is marked as Webb’s first. At the end of the month, Webb turned to Chariklo again and scored another win: for the first time, astronomers analyzing telescope data detected clear signs of water ice, the presence of which had only been hinted at until now. These observations will guide astronomers to better understand the nature and behavior of small bodies in the outer reaches of our solar system.
But those two acts almost never happen.
Related: Asteroid Chariklo Has Rings: Strange Photos from Space Rock (Gallery)
Although it was the largest of its kind, Chariklo was still too small and too far away for the mighty Webb to shoot. Instead, astronomers decided to study it through magic, an indirect but powerful way of studying small objects like Chariklo. But the team doesn’t know if and when the star – without which the cloud would not exist – will fall into Webb’s field of view. This made Chariklo part of Webb Target of opportunity (Opens in a new tab) Software: If an asteroid happens to pass in front of a star, software will allow astronomers to temporarily pause the telescope’s schedule to observe the event.
The team calculated only a 50% chance that Webb would see a bright enough star with an interesting object like Chariklo’s cross in the foreground. After launch in 2021, when Webb underwent routine trajectory corrections to maintain his position in space, the team continued to predict and revise his list of potential occultations. Late last year, astronomers ended on the positive side of that 50% when they discovered by “tremendous luck” that Chariklo was on his way to hiding a star that had also fallen into Webb’s view.
“This is the first attempt to cloak my star with Webb,” wrote the team at NASA. statement (Opens in a new tab) Published Wednesday (25 January). “A great deal of hard work has gone into defining and perfecting the predictions for this unusual event.”
On October 18, 2022, Chariklo and its two-ring system are crossing in front of a star. Use of a near-infrared webcam (nirkam), astronomers monitor the star’s brightness for an hour. The resulting data shows a decrease in the star’s brightness as expected: when the asteroid ring first hides the star when the eclipse begins, and again when its final ring closes the extinction.
“The shadows cast by Chariklo’s rings are clearly detected, suggesting a new way of using Webb to explore solar system objects,” the team wrote in the statement.
Read more: How does the James Webb Space Telescope work?
Creatures like Chariklo are summoned CentaurThanks to its hybrid nature. (Centaurs are a mythical horse-human hybrid.) They look like asteroids but act like comets – Complete with visible tail. Their home is unstable Orbit between Jupiter and Neptune, housing thousands of centaurs of all shapes and sizes. While attractive, their small size and long distances make them difficult to study. The composition of even the largest centaur, Chariklo—still tiny at 160 miles (250 km) in diameter and 2 billion miles (3.2 billion km) away from us—is It is incomprehensible. also, previous search He’s hinted at water ice somewhere in the Chariklo system, but hasn’t found it for sure.
In this latest search, astronomers again point to Webb at Chariklo. This time, they used the telescope’s Near Infrared Spectrometer (NIRSpec) instrument to measure the sunlight reflected by Chariklo and its rings. The resulting spectrum shows three absorption bands from water ice, marking the first clear indication of crystalline ice.
The presence of ice crystals likely indicates that Chariklo is being bombarded constantly, according to Dean Haynes, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland. “Because the high-energy particles change the ice from a crystalline state to an amorphous state, the detection of ice crystals indicates that the Chariklo system is undergoing continuous small collisions that either expose the original material or trigger the crystallization process,” Heinz said in a NASA statement.
Read more: Centaur Rising: NASA’s Hybrid Alien Eye Mission from Asteroids and Comets
Astronomers are one step closer to studying Chariklo’s system, but there is still much that is unknown about Centaur. The spectrum analyzed in recent research includes information about the system as a whole, but it is currently difficult to distinguish data between Chariklo and its loops.
For example, although astronomers have seen the first clear signs of crystallized water ice, they don’t know for sure where the ice is in asteroid systems. Pablo Santos Sanz, an astronomer at the Andalusian Institute in Spain who was involved in the research, said in a statement.
“we hope [to] Gain insight into why this tiny object even has a ring, and perhaps discover new, dimmer rings,” said Santos-Sanz.
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