In this column, staff writer J.E. Reich rounds up the most important and fascinating space news of the past week in bite-sized summaries to keep you up-to-date on what's happening way up above us.   

It truly is the season of the flyby. NASA's Pluto-orbiting craft New Horizons took pictures that revealed the dwarf planet's most mysterious moon, Kerberos, wasn't exactly in the shape that they thought—newly transmitted images detail the lunar satellite's obloid, possibly conjoined surface. Astronomers also discovered a star being devoured alive by a black hole, and don't believe the hype—an asteroid nicknamed "the Great Pumpkin" is not destined to hit Earth on Halloween 2015.

New Horizons Finally Catches a Glimpse of Kerberos, Pluto's Most Elusive Moon


As if there were any doubt, NASA's Pluto-obsessed New Horizons spacecraft continues to churn out galaxial wonders. This time, the planetary (or in this case, subplanetary) object of focus is the ever elusive, slippery Kerberos, the dwarf planet's tiniest, most mysterious moon. (Or, as New Horizons' project scientist Hal Weaver put it: "Once again, the Pluto system has surprised us.")

The rudimentary, low-pixel shots of Kerberos (the Greek language version of Cerberus, whose namesake served as a three-headed guard dog for the mythological, Hellenistic underworld) were sent back to Earth on Oct. 20, and revealed that the lunar satellite is double-lobed. (Or to put it in layman's terms: Kerberos is decidedly nonspherical, with the affectation of a conjoined double yolk that came from the same egg.)

So how did Kerberos become the unique butterfly it is today? According to NASA's theory, Kerberos is the product of a consolidation between two spatial objects; besides that, no other details have been released.

The image down-linked by New Horizons was more or less jarring to NASA's New Horizons team: the previously held belief about Kerberos was its utmost resemblance to Pluto's other moons, including its size—thought to be massive instead of relatively fun-sized—as well as it's assumed (read: spherical) shape.

Despite Popular Opinion, An Asteroid Will Not Hit Earth On Halloween


No, it's not the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, just your typical Halloween asteroid flyby. The ancillary celestial debris otherwise known as asteroid 2015 TB145 is scheduled to throttle past our planet in a spooky, cosmically appropriate time: All Hallow's Eve.

While many were quick to sensationalize the asteroid's trajectory in relation to its proximity to our planet (hence headlines like "Scary Asteroid to Nearly Miss Earth on Halloween") — especially in light of the astronomical event's congruence with everyone's favorite supernatural holiday — NASA had no doubt that it wasn't a threat to our planet. As NASA scientist Paul Chodas put it: "At the point of closest approach, it will be no closer than about 300,000 miles — 480,000 kilometers or 1.3 lunar distances. Even though that is relatively close by celestial standards, it is expected to be fairly faint, so night-sky Earth observers would need at least a small telescope to view it."

NASA observatories located in Goldstone, Calif., are scheduled to track asteroid 2015 TB145's path on Oct. 31 at 10:05 a.m. PDT (1:05 p.m. EDT).

The Astronaut Hall Of Fame Is Closing Its Doors


Say it ain't so, Joe (and no, not Joseph Acaba): after a mere 25 years, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame is set to shut its doors, but not necessarily for long. If all goes according to plan, the museum, located in Titusville, Fla., will open for the public later this year as an interactive, multifloor exhibit. What the complex will actually display is as of yet unkown.

For those who are fretting over the fate of the Hall of Fame's quarries, the Hall of Fame has found itself a new, near-future home at the Kennedy Space Center; the Hall of Fame will be situated in the pre-existing visitor complex, and will highlight the achievements and exemplifications of the NASA space program's early pioneers.

Check out the Astronaut Hall of Fame's last induction ceremony this past May, which honored space explorers Steve Lindsey, Kent Rominger, and M. Rhea Seddon, as well as government administrator John Grunsfeld in the video below.

 


Saturn's Enceladus' Cracked (North Pole)


During the flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus, courtesy of NASA's spacecraft Cassini, the robotic probe made sure to snap some photos of the lunar satellite's northern topography, most notably its polar region. While astronomers already knew that the area was crater-faced, the relatively close-range images revealed an almost patterned surface, with a series of slyphlike cracks that runs throughout

"The northern regions are crisscrossed by a spidery network of gossamer-thin cracks that slice through the craters," said Cornell University's Paul Helfenstein, one of the members of Cassini imaging team. "These thin cracks are ubiquitous on Enceladus, and now we see that they extend across the northern terrains as well."

Enceladus is also known for its global ocean, which lies beneath the icy surface of Saturn's moon, confirmed in September 2015. Cassini's next Encladus flyby is planned for Oct. 28, and it will measure the vapors and emanating heat on the moon's southern pole.

Check out the animated rendering of Cassini's Enceladus flyby in the NASA video below.

 

Astronomers Spot A Black Hole Devouring A Star


A team of astronomers at the University of Maryland have discovered a star being torn apart 290 million light years away from us. The cause? The star, located in a galaxy called PGC 043234, is being ripped to pieces by a black hole—and it's the most large-scale celestial destruction of its kind that scientists have seen in over a decade.

The star's violent undoing is called a tidal disruption: when a star gets too close to the gargantuan gravitational pull of a black hole, tidal forces are enacted, which render the star into ribbons. The visual result is called an X-ray flare, due to streamer-like debris being flung into the ether, while the rest is pulled into the black hole.

"We have seen evidence for a handful of tidal disruptions over the years and have developed a lot of ideas of what goes on," said Jon Miller, a professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan and one of the leading authors of a paper detailing their findings, which was published by Nature on Oct. 22. "This one is the best chance we have had so far to really understand what happens when a black hole shreds a star."

Here's an artistic rendering of a black hole eating a star in the video below, courtesy of Space.com

Scott Kelly Pic of the Week (!) To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Robert Zemeckis' time traveling, retro-nostalgic film trilogy, astronault (and Platonic Man Crush™) Scott Kelly decided to get into the spirit of things, pairing a cloud-spackled shot of Earth with a BTTF quote, and topped with a (once optimistic, now realistic) hashtag:

 Indeed, Astronaut Kelly, indeed.

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