Video: NASA Dawn reaches Vesta Update: Climate change science impact?

posted at 7:20 pm on July 18, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has finished a long and winding trip, reaching the “dwarf planet” of Vesta this weekend. Vesta is one of the two largest objects we’ve detected in the asteroid belt, at roughly 300 miles in diameter or 1/300 the mass of our moon. Later in the mission, Dawn will visit Ceres, which is roughly four times larger.

The video below includes a good comparison of the pictures we’re receiving now and the best we’d managed to get out of Hubble to date. The Hubble pictures are grainy and blurred, showing little more than a roughly spherical object slowly rotating in the debris field. These new films are very crisp. (Warning: they plugged in some fairly cheesy music over the presentation, but it’s still pretty cool.)

Before we get to the video, though, this story has a strange twist which involves, of all things, climate science. It seems that yet again everything we thought we knew about long term climate change was wrong, and the data involved is so complex that it can be thrown off by something as small and far away as Vesta.

Paleoclimate studies, where scientists look into the past to try and understand changes in Earth’s climate, may be a waste of time if astronomers are correct in their theory that relatively minor bodies like the asteroid Vesta can cause chaotic fluctuations in Earth’s orbit. NASA’s Dawn space-probe flew by Vesta last Saturday…

The new calculations show that Ceres and Vesta gravitationally interact with themselves and with the other planets of the solar system. Because of these interactions, they are continuously pulled or pushed slightly out of their initial orbit. The calculations show that, over time, these effects do not average out. Consequently, their orbits are chaotic, meaning that we cannot predict their positions over long periods.

According to the figures, Ceres and Vesta’s interactions with the Earth cause our planet’s orbit to become unpredictable after only 60 million years. This means that the Earth’s eccentricity, which can cause major climatic variations, cannot be traced back more than 60 million years. This calls into question all Paleoclimate studies that seek to look back further than this point.

BONUS: Scientists explain why Vesta can’t properly be classified as an “asteroid” because it is a differentiated body like a planet, with a core, mantle and crust.

Video:

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I like the music. It has a ‘sciene fiction porn’ element to it. Cool video, too…

joejm65 on July 18, 2011 at 7:25 PM

Oooops. Science.

joejm65 on July 18, 2011 at 7:25 PM

I am shocked…shocked…I tell you…that we do not know exactly what was going on 60,000 years ago.

Next thing you know someone is going to tell me we can’t even predict the weather next week or something silly and unscientific like that.

Lily on July 18, 2011 at 7:25 PM

Earth’s climate is also inherently chaotic, meaning it cannot be predicted with reliability either. Something which seems to have escaped all the alarmists.

Ozwitch on July 18, 2011 at 7:30 PM

Very cool.

rbj on July 18, 2011 at 7:31 PM

chaotic fluctuations

So Vesta is a liberal? /x

Oil Can on July 18, 2011 at 7:33 PM

Just don’t strike it! (British joke).

OldEnglish on July 18, 2011 at 7:34 PM

They failed to factor in the government grant money available… that’d clear things up.

mankai on July 18, 2011 at 7:37 PM

Paleoclimate studies, where scientists look into the past to try and understand changes in Earth’s climate, may be a waste of time if astronomers are correct in their theory that relatively minor bodies like the asteroid Vesta can cause chaotic fluctuations in Earth’s orbit.

All complex, chaotic, feedback-driven systems (i.e.: climate), are are highly sensitive to initial conditions and quickly become inherently unpredictable. We’ve known this since at least the ’60s.

Chaos theory: Learn it, know it, live it.

==========

Jazz: Thanks for the space pr0n!

ZenDraken on July 18, 2011 at 7:38 PM

The new calculations show that Ceres and Vesta gravitationally interact with themselves and with the other planets of the solar system. Because of these interactions, they are continuously pulled or pushed slightly out of their initial orbit.

Elementary Physics my dear Watson. In this case theory would have predicted it but now they have boots on the ground evidence. Who would have thought that the scientific method really works.

chemman on July 18, 2011 at 7:39 PM

The new calculations show that Ceres and Vesta gravitationally interact with themselves and with the other planets of the solar system.

New calculations showing an object’s gravitational pull influences other objects?

Einstein figured that out in 1915.

BacaDog on July 18, 2011 at 7:41 PM

Excellent and interesting piece, Jazz. I loved the video. However, I guess it is safe to call you global warming denier and a hater as well.

simkeith on July 18, 2011 at 7:42 PM

Will Obama hit the “off” button when the Feds run out of cash on 8/2?

PappyD61 on July 18, 2011 at 7:48 PM

lgf bike messenger, the high priest of climate change hucksters, set to attack the asteroid belt in 3, 2, 1…

DrW on July 18, 2011 at 7:49 PM

A new place for America to Drill?

DRILL BABY DRILL
DRILL BABY DRILL
DRILL BABY DRILL!!

And I know just the Baby that can get the Drillin’ started.

PappyD61 on July 18, 2011 at 7:49 PM

I think I saw 1 of McCain’s houses!

huckleberryfriend on July 18, 2011 at 7:53 PM

What does this have to do with NASA’s new mission of extolling the virtues of muslim civilization? (sarc)

Bigfoot on July 18, 2011 at 7:55 PM

What does this have to do with NASA’s new mission of extolling the virtues of muslim civilization? (sarc)

Bigfoot on July 18, 2011 at 7:55 PM

Proving that it’s far out?

OldEnglish on July 18, 2011 at 7:56 PM

Chaos theory: Learn it, know it, live it.

ZenDraken on July 18, 2011 at 7:38 PM

Isn’t that where you show some blonde chick the basis of the theory with a drop of water on her hand…right before the velociraptors try and eat everyone?

BadMojo on July 18, 2011 at 7:56 PM

But how does this latest NASA venture help Muslims feel good about themselves?

vcferlita on July 18, 2011 at 7:56 PM

What does this have to do with NASA’s new mission of extolling the virtues of muslim civilization? (sarc)

Bigfoot on July 18, 2011 at 7:55 PM

Its a big rock that can be thrown at women who are sinful enough to be raped?

malclave on July 18, 2011 at 8:01 PM

New calculations showing an object’s gravitational pull influences other objects?

Einstein figured that out in 1915.

BacaDog on July 18, 2011 at 7:41 PM

This isn’t exactly general relativity. This is actually advanced application of Newtonian gravity. The rest of the planets orbits can be worked out because they can be accurately “perturbed” from the basic two body equation. These two are apparently close enough to each other that the perturbation theory doesn’t converge farther back than 60,000 years.
One of those “devils in the details” things that sometimes show up in science. This is why one should be careful about predictions that depend more on initial conditions (like global climate) than on invariants (like, say general trends in evolution).

Count to 10 on July 18, 2011 at 8:03 PM

Its a big rock that can be thrown at women who are sinful enough to be raped?

malclave on July 18, 2011 at 8:01 PM

Hah, just shot beer out of my nose…and it BURNNNNSSSSSS!

BadMojo on July 18, 2011 at 8:04 PM

Did this just become the Jazz Shaw blog or is he spamming the website?

jnelchef on July 18, 2011 at 8:04 PM

NASA budget- 18b Creates jobs, advances science and our stature in the world.

Department of Energy budget – 30b Kills jobs, destroys science and reduces us to dependency on the rest of the world.

Department of Education budget – 122b – yes that’s 122 billion dollars last year- Creates bogus jobs for cronies, destroys science and lowers our educational standing in the world.

So Obama is shutting down NASA.

batterup on July 18, 2011 at 8:13 PM

Now I’ll step onto the gallows and proclaim…NASA!!!!!!!!

Was there with Redstone. Was there with Atlas. Was there with Titan. Was there with Saturn. Maybe not efficient but damn sure enlightening.

You can pull the lever now, libertarian mob.

Limerick on July 18, 2011 at 8:14 PM

Ot:funny how the lsm is holding brooks and Murdoch accountable for the hacking scandal, but nary a peep on holding holder and dear leader accountable on fast and furious scandal

cmsinaz on July 18, 2011 at 8:14 PM

Now stop defunding NASA.

ernesto on July 18, 2011 at 8:30 PM

Now stop defunding NASA.

ernesto on July 18, 2011 at 8:30 PM

I think this has to be one of the first times I’ve ever agreed with the pathalogical liar.

Scrappy on July 18, 2011 at 8:34 PM

Is it just me or do those new juxtaposed images also suck? I guess I don’t have the same eye for detail as NASA. Or after enough Sci-fi movies I have much higher expectations.

Goldenavatar on July 18, 2011 at 8:41 PM

We would have had global warming if it wasn’t for those darn asteroids…

right2bright on July 18, 2011 at 8:45 PM

Or after enough Sci-fi movies I have much higher expectations.

Goldenavatar on July 18, 2011 at 8:41 PM

Thank goodness Smith saw past the pixels Columbus sent back.

Limerick on July 18, 2011 at 8:45 PM

Is it just me or do those new juxtaposed images also suck? I guess I don’t have the same eye for detail as NASA. Or after enough Sci-fi movies I have much higher expectations.

Goldenavatar on July 18, 2011 at 8:41 PM

It looks like the video wasn’t using the latest images or was just too compressed to make a difference. The full size images are spectacular.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/multimedia/pia14313.html

jonknee on July 18, 2011 at 8:52 PM

But how does this latest NASA venture help Muslims feel good about themselves?

Muslims worship big rocks.

BDavis on July 18, 2011 at 9:07 PM

Now stop defunding NASA.

ernesto on July 18, 2011 at 8:30 PM

I think this has to be one of the first times I’ve ever agreed with the pathalogical liar.

Scrappy on July 18, 2011 at 8:34 PM

Except its his side that wants to defund NASA. Space geeks already knew that.

The White House wants to delay work on missions to beyond low Earth orbit – which are pricy – until after 2015, but needs congressional approval to do this. Now a senator who oversees NASA policy says that work on a powerful new rocket that would enable such missions should begin next year.

Under former president George W. Bush, NASA focused on building the Ares I rocket to send astronauts to the International Space Station after the space shuttle fleet retires. There were also plans to build a more powerful Ares V rocket to fly astronauts to the moon and beyond.

Barack Obama’s White House wants to cancel both Ares rockets. Under its new plan, commercial space taxis would be used to ferry astronauts to the space station. A so-called heavy-lift rocket with similar capabilities to the Ares V would be developed to fly astronauts to asteroids and ultimately to Mars, but that costly effort would not begin until 2015.

New Scientist

cozmo on July 18, 2011 at 9:16 PM

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has finished a long and winding trip, reaching the “dwarf planet” of Vesta this weekend

But it’s not a dwarf planet. As you point out later:

BONUS: Scientists explain why Vesta can’t properly be classified as an “asteroid” because it is a differentiated body like a planet, with a core, mantle and crust.

That link says:

Scientists at NASA believe that Vesta is more aptly a protoplanet. It’s too small to be a dwarf planet, but its layered surface distinguishes itself from being called a “minor planet”.

The Monster on July 18, 2011 at 9:31 PM

What does this have to do with NASA’s new mission of extolling the virtues of muslim civilization? (sarc)

Bigfoot on July 18, 2011 at 7:55 PM

That we can finally confirm that the mama rock of the baby rock they worship in Mecca, lives.

maynila on July 18, 2011 at 9:33 PM

Lots of funds for NASA

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA

Ernie such a lying turd.

CW on July 18, 2011 at 9:47 PM

That link says:

Scientists at NASA believe that Vesta is more aptly a protoplanet. It’s too small to be a dwarf planet, but its layered surface distinguishes itself from being called a “minor planet”.

The Monster on July 18, 2011 at 9:31 PM

IIRC, there is much disagreement on what to classify Vesta.

At least astronomers are willing to debate and change, unlike scientists who have politicized the climate.

cozmo on July 18, 2011 at 9:47 PM

cozmo on July 18, 2011 at 9:16 PM

A fair point, though a. the GOP is of no help and b. most of my anger over NASA funding has to do with cuts to programs like the James Webb Space Telescope. I’m willing to hand space freight over to private companies, but no private company is going to build the next Hubble; NASA must do this, and the GOP is saying no.

ernesto on July 18, 2011 at 9:55 PM

ernesto on July 18, 2011 at 9:55 PM

Dang, I cannot rip you on that. Both sides have been guilty of transferring funds from NASA to their own pet projects (and abusing NASA when they want to be seen as budget hawks). Though, the JWST has not been canceled, Unlike the Ares. There have often times been delays in NASA projects, the JWST is still being built.

cozmo on July 18, 2011 at 10:07 PM

SUV’s cause sun spots. Sun spots cause global warming. — Algore 2009

petefrt on July 18, 2011 at 10:10 PM

We would have had global warming if it wasn’t for those darn asteroids…

right2bright on July 18, 2011 at 8:45 PM

And Pac-Man, and Centipede. And don’t even get me started on Duck Hunt.

malclave on July 18, 2011 at 10:17 PM

This article has got it all wrong. I have it from a reliable source that “Vesta” is the actually the code name for Obama’s pea brain. The photos show the actual condition of said brain, indicating an advanced state of calcification and hardening. The photos also indicate the vast empty space of his cranial cavity. I had no idea that NASA had the ability to peer inside someone’s head like that. What an amazing age we live in… to actually see Obama’s pea brain in action. It really is pretty small isn’t it? Guess that explains his habit if sticking his finger in his ear all the time… the thing must be about to fall out or something!

Bootleghooch on July 18, 2011 at 10:23 PM

The science is settled dammit!!!!!!!11

/

bitsy on July 18, 2011 at 10:41 PM

Sorry. Owing to the differences in mass between earth and the bodies in question as well as their distance from earth means that they have negligable effects at best on us.

Simply put, since the radius between earth and the object, squared, appears in the denominator of the gravity expression it means that our moon exerts more force on us at any given time than these bodies ever will; or ever have…

Not to mention that any veriation from our current orbit would be measured in meters at best, while the distance to the sun is measured in billions of meters. Insignifigant, except, you know, maybe to the muslims NASA trying to conduct outreach to :)

RocketmanBob on July 18, 2011 at 10:48 PM

Sorry to put a damper on all this climate BS, but the gravitational impact of the asteroid belt, let alone any single mass in the belt, has NO discernible impact on Earth’s orbit or climate.

Physics 101 – the force of gravity (a given mass) drops off with distance squared.

Solar system physics, the largest mass that impacts our climate is the Moon. Much larger, incredibly closer. Vesta is many times smaller, many times farther.

Vesta would probably not compete with the mass of the Sun, Jupiter or Saturn in terms of affecting Earth’s orbit.

Pure mathematical BS. Anyone making this claim needs to turn their PhD back in – they are a fraud.

To understand the distance squared effect, realize something that could impact us equal to the moon would have to be 4 times as big as the moon if twice as far away.

Squared, not multiplied.

AJStrata on July 18, 2011 at 11:27 PM

Wake me when we get to Mars

Raisedbywolves on July 18, 2011 at 11:28 PM

Vesta is not a planet. Asteroids come in many forms. Some are loosely connected rubble, others are solid metal. Again, someone who is not a solar system or planetary scientists is making BS up.

Take it from someone who works on NASA missions and knows from decades of experience. Star Trek is closer to accurate.

AJStrata on July 18, 2011 at 11:30 PM

Fortunately Obama shut down NASA!

What a waste of tax payer dollars!

Who needs space exploration when we can dump all our cash into welfare checks right here at home where people really need it!

amend2 on July 18, 2011 at 11:50 PM

The big story in AGW today is that the boss of Cern has told his scientists not to speak about the results of their latest experiement. Obviously, that means it produced a strong anti-AGW result.

“CERN boss: I forbade employees to interpret our climate experiment

Political pressure on scientific research even at CERN began to resemble the undemocratic regimes of the past…”

http://motls.blogspot.com/2011/07/cern-boss-i-forbade-employees-to.html

http://www.climatedepot.com/

Fred 2 on July 19, 2011 at 12:09 AM

Fred 2 on July 19, 2011 at 12:09 AM

Test results that do not support the ‘consensus’ are not allowed.

slickwillie2001 on July 19, 2011 at 12:26 AM

RocketmanBob on July 18, 2011 at 10:48 PM

AJStrata on July 18, 2011 at 11:27 PM

True for linear systems. But nonlinear systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions, referred to as the “Butterfly Effect”; i.e.: a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Japan will ultimately lead to the formation of a tornado in Kansas months later.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

We cannot make any long term predictions of such systems. And any planetary system with more than two bodies is a nonlinear system. So is the Earth’s climate.

ZenDraken on July 19, 2011 at 12:26 AM

That is one beat up moon!

IowaWoman on July 19, 2011 at 1:01 AM

Vesta would probably not compete with the mass of the Sun, Jupiter or Saturn in terms of affecting Earth’s orbit.

AJStrata on July 18, 2011 at 11:27 PM

They are not claiming that asteroids have the immediate effect on Earth’s orbit that the Moon or planets have, but rather that over a period of 60 million years the impact grows enough to shift Earth’s orbit. That happens because the positions of the asteroids do not average out to a net zero over long time periods.

pedestrian on July 19, 2011 at 1:37 AM

NASA budget- 18b Creates jobs, advances science and our stature in the world.
Department of Energy budget – 30b Kills jobs, destroys science and reduces us to dependency on the rest of the world.
Department of Education budget – 122b – yes that’s 122 billion dollars last year- Creates bogus jobs for cronies, destroys science and lowers our educational standing in the world.
So Obama is shutting down NASA.
batterup on July 18, 2011 at 8:13 PM

You do know that the DoE funds more basic science than NASA, right?

Count to 10 on July 19, 2011 at 7:47 AM

I have one word for all you parents out there who are paying for the kids to get degrees in climate change, suckers! You bought into the whole Albore fraud hoax that is global warming and the kids, too. They so wanted to save the planet and now will find out they have a worthless piece of paper on the wall. I hear Mickey Ds is hiring.

Kissmygrits on July 19, 2011 at 9:47 AM

We really should spend a whole lot more on these very important projects.

We will never fix our debt problems until we get our priorities right.

/s

esnap on July 19, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Zen Draken,

Clearly you have no experience in solar navigation. If we could not model the gravitational field of our solar system to a precise level, we could not sling shot satellites into precise intercept orbits.

You may not be able to figure it out – but we at NASA do it all the time. You may want to look up Kalhman Filters and how they model non-linear systems and are used to model the effects.

But at least you admit there is no math to prove the supposed theory of one mass in the asteroid belt effecting weather here on Earth!

AJStrata on July 19, 2011 at 12:47 PM

Pedestrian,

Yeah got that. But the problem is Vesta is not the only mass, nor the most influential. The sum of all the masses in the belt null out to a single effect, which will be basically nothing.

There is NO WAY Vesta ALONE drove Earth’s orbital change. It could be Mercury and Jupiter and Saturn and Mars and….

BTW – it is all these. And much more.

Silly stuff for amateurs – and we have plenty of those at NASA

AJStrata on July 19, 2011 at 12:49 PM

This means that the Earth’s eccentricity, which can cause major climatic variations, cannot be traced back more than 60 million years. This calls into question all Paleoclimate studies that seek to look back further than this point.

This validates my observation that “climate scientists” have absolutely NO idea what will happen next week!!

landlines on July 19, 2011 at 2:13 PM

SUV’s cause sun spots. Sun spots cause global warming. — Algore 2009

petefrt on July 18, 2011 at 10:10 PM

You are neglecting the devastating effect of hair spray on the entire universe!!!

John Edwards and Mitt Romney by themselves are responsible for the future drowning of North and South America under thousands of feet of hair-spray-induced flooding!!

/sarc>

landlines on July 19, 2011 at 2:46 PM

This is cool stuff (contrary to the idiots posting in the YouTube comments). For a real treat, try NASA’s “Eyes on the Solar System” simulator; I’ve had Dawn approaching Vesta in ‘real time’ since last year.

My only beef with the video is the last frame. Some rocket scientist misspelled “asteroid.”

Paul_in_NJ on July 21, 2011 at 12:02 AM