Asteroids burning over the sky often cause no damage, as they’re generally small objects. But such an incident can lead to a groundbreaking result in the study of astrophysics. Recently, a small asteroid burned in the sky of Ontario in Canada, which served as the perfect testing ground for the Scout impact hazard assessment system of NASA. Space scientists discovered Asteroid 2022 WJ1 on November 18 in the evening, and it burned just a few hours later.
The Real-Life Test
Along with other endeavors, NASA focuses on planetary defense with two crucial aspects of detection and tracking potentially dangerous objects to predict the possible impact. And a real-life scenario like the Ontario event is always good to test the systems. Though this 2022 WJ1 asteroid posed no threat, as it’s just three feet in size, NASA was able to discover and observe it only 3.5 hours before the impact. NASA also tracked the asteroid and successfully predicted the area it was going to burn.
The Discovery and Observation
The Catalina Sky Survey, a NASA-funded space organization, discovered the asteroid. Within seven minutes, Scout knew that there was a 1/4th chance that it would burn somewhere between the Atlantic Ocean and Mexico off the coast of North America. Soon, more observations were conducted by a group of astronomers at the Fairpoint Observatory in Kansas. From data collected through 46 observations, Scout was able to confirm the time and position the small asteroid was going to hit the earth. They also predicted that its bolide would be visible after two hours. These observations allowed the researchers around Lake Ontario to prepare for the cosmic body collision. After the event, they even tracked the small meteorites, released at the time the asteroid broke apart. This successful test has given NASA a huge boost of confidence that their planetary defense community and systems can successfully predict and inform about the possible impact of a collision with a larger cosmic object.
The Newfound Neutron Star Might Be the Lightest Ever Known
Curiosity is mounting among scientists and astronomers regarding HESS J1731-347, the record-breaking neutron star. Scientists have suggested that it could be the lightest neutron star ever found to date, or maybe it’s something else entirely!
What’s a Neutron Star?
There are stars in the galaxy that contain a mass of 10-25 times more than the sun. When these stars go supernova, they leave behind a neutron star. A neutron star is a highly dense object, which can contain a weight similar to a mountain in just a teaspoon of its material. Neutrons are electrically neutral, so any electromagnetic repulsion is absent in them. Despite weighing like, or more than, the sun, a neutron star is not usually much bigger than a city. It’s the incredible densities of those neutron stars that prevent them from turning into black holes.
The New Neutron Star
It’s the mass assessment of the new-found neutron star that has made scientists intrigued. HESS J1731-347 has an estimated mass of just 0.77 times the sun. In a new research paper, the group of scientists working on this star stated that with such a lightweight mass, it can potentially be a more exotic object under the category of a ‘strange star.’ They further elaborated that they had declared the star as possibly the lightest-ever neutron star, based on the robust result of their assessment. But there’s also a range of intriguing possibilities lying in the star.
The Process of Estimation
The group of scientists made the mass estimate of HESS J1731-347 by using X-ray observations from the XMM-Newton observatory. They also measured the precise distance of the star from Gaia. They have described this particular neutron star as the CCO or the ‘central compact object’ at the core of the remnant of a supernova, which is basically the cloud of debris produced by the explosion of a star. Now it remains to be seen what other characteristics the new neutron star might have held inside it.