UCLA Meteorite Hunter Jason Utas In Finnish Magazine Tähdet Ja Avaruus

UCLA Meteorite Hunter and Graduate Student Jason Utas Appears In Finnish Magazine Tähdet Ja Avaruus

Known for being a meteorite hunter extraordinaire, UCLA Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences Graduate Student Jason Utas has appeared in the Finnish magazine Tähdet Ja Avaruus discussing meteorites. You may find some of the samples he has recovered or has put up at the UCLA Meteorite Museum which is FREE and open to the public in UCLA Geology Building, Room 3-697 open M-F 9AM-4PM and Sunday 1PM-4PM

You can download the article here: ta0716_meteoriitti

The Disintegration of Comet 332P/Ikeya-Muramaki


UCLA-led astronomers capture best view ever of disintegrating comet

Astronomers have captured the sharpest, most detailed observations of a comet breaking apart 67 million miles from Earth, using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The discovery is published online today in Astrophysical Journal Letters.In a series of images taken over three days in January 2016, Hubble revealed 25 building-size blocks made of a mixture of ice and dust that are drifting away from the comet at a leisurely pace, about the walking speed of an adult, said David Jewitt, a professor in the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences and the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy, who led the research team.The observations also suggest that the roughly 4.5-billion-year-old comet, named 332P/Ikeya- Murakami, or Comet 332P, may be spinning so fast that material is ejected from its surface. The resulting debris is now scattered along a 3,000-mile-long trail, larger than the width of the continental U.S.These observations provide insight into the volatile behavior of comets as they approach the sun and begin to vaporize, unleashing powerful forces.“We know that comets sometimes disintegrate, but we don’t know much about why or how,” Jewitt said. “The trouble is that it happens quickly and without warning, so we don’t have much chance to get useful data. With Hubble’s fantastic resolution, not only do we see really tiny, faint bits of the comet, but we can watch them change from day to day. That has allowed us to make the best measurements ever obtained on such an object.”The three-day observations show that the comet shards brighten and dim as icy patches on their surfaces rotate into and out of sunlight. Their shapes change too as they break apart. The icy relics comprise about four percent of the parent comet and range in size from roughly 65 feet wide to 200 feet wide. They are separating at only a few miles per hour as they orbit the sun at more than 50,000 miles per hour.

The Hubble images show that the parent comet changes brightness frequently, completing a rotation every two to four hours. A visitor to the comet would see the sun rise and set in as little as an hour, Jewitt said.

The comet is much smaller than astronomers thought, measuring only 1,600 feet across, about the length of five football fields.

Comet 332P was discovered in November 2010, after it surged in brightness and was spotted by two Japanese amateur astronomers, Kaoru Ikeya and Shigeki Murakami.

Based on the Hubble data, the research team suggests that sunlight heated up the comet’s surface, causing it to erupt jets of dust and gas. Because the nucleus is so small, these jets act like rocket engines, spinning up the comet’s rotation, Jewitt said. The faster spin rate loosened chunks of material, which are drifting off into space. The research team calculated that the comet probably shed material over a period of months, between October and December 2015.

Jewitt suggests that some of the ejected pieces have themselves fallen to bits in a kind of cascading fragmentation. “Our analysis shows that the smaller fragments are not as abundant as one might expect based on the number of bigger chunks,” he said. “This is suggestive that they’re being depleted even in the few months since they were launched from the primary body. We think these little guys have a short lifetime.”

Hubble’s sharp vision also spied a chunk of material close to the comet, which may be the first salvo of another outburst. The remnant from still another flare-up, which may have occurred in 2012, is also visible. The fragment may be as large as Comet 332P, suggesting the comet split in two. But the icy remnant wasn’t spotted until Dec. 31, 2015, by the Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) telescope in Hawaii.

That discovery prompted Jewitt and colleagues to request Hubble Space Telescope time to study the comet in detail. Around the same time, astronomers worldwide began to notice a “cloud of nebulosity” near the comet, which Hubble later resolved into the 25 pieces.

“In the past, astronomers thought that comets die when they are warmed by sunlight, causing their ices to simply vaporize away,” Jewitt said. Either nothing would be left over or there would be a dead hulk of material where an active comet used to be. But it’s starting to look like fragmentation may be more important. In comet 332P we may be seeing a comet fragmenting itself into oblivion.”

The researchers estimate that comet 332P contains enough mass to endure another 25 outbursts. “If the comet has an episode every six years, the equivalent of one orbit around the sun, then it will be gone in 150 years,” Jewitt said. “It’s just the blink of an eye, astronomically speaking. The trip to the inner solar system has doomed it.”

The icy visitor hails from the Kuiper belt, a vast swarm of objects at the outskirts of our solar system. These icy relics are the leftover building blocks from our solar system’s construction. After nearly 4.5 billion years in this icy deep freeze, chaotic gravitational perturbations from Neptune kicked comet 332P out of the Kuiper belt, Jewitt said. As the comet traveled across the

solar system, it was deflected by the planets, like a ball bouncing around in a pinball machine, until Jupiter’s gravity set its current orbit, he said.

Jewitt estimates that a comet from the Kuiper belt gets tossed into the inner solar system every 40 to 100 years.

Co-authors include Harold Weaver, Jr., research professor at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

EPSS’s Emmanuel Masongsong’s Figure Published in Nature Physics


Image caption: An artist’s rendering of the magnetosphere in cross-section, with the sun and solar wind on the left and magnetic field lines emanating from the Earth in blue. The five THEMIS probes were well-positioned to directly observe one particular magnetic field line as it moved back and forth every six minutes. This magnetic field motion caused electrons (white dots) to stream along the field line and enter Earth’s north and south poles, brightening a specific region of the aurora. Credit: E. Masongsong, UCLA EPSS, NASA EYES.


Auroras Dance to the Pulse of Earth’s Magnetic Field

by Emmanuel Masongsong, UCLA EPSS/IGPP/iPLEX


The majestic aurora has captivated humans for millennia, yet the mysterious lights’ electromagnetic nature and connection to solar activity were only realized in the last 150 years. Detailed study of the aurora has finally become possible in recent decades with coordinated multi-satellite observations, and worldwide networks of ground-based magnetic sensors and cameras. Using data from NASA’s THEMIS mission, an international team of scientists observed Earth’s vibrating magnetic field at an altitude of 40,000 miles, more than 5 times the Earth’s diameter, while simultaneously capturing the northern lights dancing in the night sky over Canada. Their findings, reported in the journal Nature Physics, are the first to directly map the back-and- forth motion of this distant magnetic field and the resulting electrical currents to a particular region of brightening aurora in Earth’s upper atmosphere. This is an important link in understanding and eventually predicting how solar activity and space electricity can impact our technological infrastructure.


The Earth is connected to the sun via the solar wind, an outward flow of electromagnetic radiation and charged particles (plasma) that affects all the planets, moons, comets, and asteroids in our solar system. These interactions, collectively known as space weather, include solar flares and violent plasma eruptions that could jam radio signals, damage weather, communications and GPS satellites, or even disable our global electrical power grid. Luckily for us, Earth has a spinning, molten metal core that generates a magnetic force field known as the magnetosphere. Magnetic field lines, like immense loops that extend outward from the Earth’s north and south poles, form a giant protective bubble that shields us from most harmful space weather.


Under the right conditions, however, some solar wind particles and energy can enter the magnetosphere and subsequently be released in powerful bursts that can power the auroras, called a substorm. The magnetic field lines surrounding our planet vibrate wildly and mobilize the surrounding plasma, causing electrons to stream along the magnetic field lines until they fall into Earth's poles. The electrons collide with atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen atoms, which then emit the familiar green and red/blue colors of the aurora. This process is like a cosmic electric guitar string, whose motion is converted to an electrical current that flows into a distant amplified speaker, but instead of a note it results in an epic plasma light show!


In 2007 NASA launched THEMIS’s five satellites to make coordinated measurements of space plasmas and ground auroras, in order to understand this energy release. In the study reported in Nature Physics, the space and ground assets were particularly well-positioned to capture the motion of the oscillating magnetic field lines together with the aurora they produced. The oscillation frequency was a mere one cycle every six minutes, yet the field line stretched back and forth by as much as two Earth diameters and the power produced, about 10GW, dwarfed the generating capacity of the largest nuclear power plants. Ground-based magnetic sensors across Canada and Greenland recorded the inflowing electrical currents, while specialized all-sky cameras captured the aurora as it brightened and dimmed, appearing to dance in lock-step with the six minute period of the vibrating magnetic field line. To verify this correlation, the researchers compared the electromagnetic energy released deep in the magnetosphere with the amount dissipated in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. “We were delighted to see such a strong match,” said Evgeny Panov, lead author and researcher at the Space Research Institute, of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz. “These observations reveal the missing link in the conversion of magnetic energy to particle energy that powers the aurora.”


The most intense geomagnetic storm on record occurred in 1859 when space weather phenomena affected few people, whereas today a broad range of industries and infrastructure would be crippled by such a space storm. With the continued growth of the commercial space industry, space tourism, and increasing dependence on GPS positioning for automated cars and aircraft, accurate space weather forecasting and alerts are becoming ever more crucial. THEMIS is a key component of this research fleet, refining our ability to make higher-fidelity space weather models. “Even after nearly ten years, the probes are still in great health, and our growing network of magnetometers and all-sky cameras continue to generate high quality data,” said Vassilis Angelopoulos, co-author and THEMIS principal investigator at UCLA.


THEMIS is part of NASA’s Explorer program, managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center. UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory is responsible for mission operations and built several of the on-board and ground-based instruments. Austria, Canada, France and Germany contributed instrumentation, operations and science. ATK (formerly Swales Aerospace), built the THEMIS spacecraft. The all-sky imagers and magnetometers are jointly operated by UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Calgary, and University of Alberta, Canada.

iPLEX-MUST Fellows Program in Planetary Science


iPLEX-MUST Fellows Program in Planetary Science


University Involvement

Host Department:
Institute for Planets and Exoplanets (iPLEX)
Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences (EPSS)
  Contact: Prof. David Jewitt, Director of iPLEX, jewitt@ucla.edu

Partnering University:
Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST)
Contact: Prof. Kwing Chan Lam, Director Space Science Institute, klchan@must.edu.mo

The iPLEX-MUST Fellows Program
Visitors (graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty) from the Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST) will, through extended stays at UCLA, interact with our planetary scientists under the UCLA iPLEX (Institute for Planets and Exoplanets) umbrella.  Participants will visit in pairs (6 people per year, 2 people per academic quarter) and stay for one quarter each.  The program objective is to learn directly about the aims and the conduct of modern planetary science from established UCLA practitioners.  Fellows are expected to participate in the life of the department by attending public seminars and colloquia, and it is hope that they will take the opportunity to interact with UCLA planetary scientists in research discussions.  iPLEX Fellows will participate in the development of a scientific mini-workshop, to be held on the UCLA campus, with attendance funded through this program.

Useful Links
iPLEX:            http://planets.ucla.edu/about/
SSI/LPSL:        http://www.must.edu.mo/en/ssi-en
EPSS:            http://epss.ucla.edu/
MUST:            http://www.must.edu.mo/en/

UCLA Planetary Science-Related Faculty & Their Interests:
Vassilis Angelopoulos, Professor in EPSS, space physics, Themis, Artemis, CubeSat program
Jonathan Aurnou, Professor in EPSS, fluid dynamics, planetary convection, planetary magnetic fields, laboratory simulation
Brad Hansen, Professor in P&A, physics of planetary formation, disks, exoplanets, theory
David Jewitt, Professor in EPSS and P&A, planetary astronomy, primitive bodies, solar system formation
Jean-Luc Margot, Professor in EPSS, dynamics, radar astronomy
Kevin McKeegan, Professor in EPSS, geochemistry and cosmochemistry, solar wind, meteorites, origin of solar system
Smadar Naoz, Assistant Professor in Astronomy, planetary and stellar dynamics
William Newman, Professor in EPSS, mathematical physics, planetary dynamics
David Paige, Professor in EPSS, planetary ice, Moon, Mercury, microphysics and thermophysics of regoliths, spacecraft investigator
Gilles Peltzer, Professor in EPSS, remote sensing from orbit
Chris Russell, Professor in EPSS, space physics, magnetometers, DAWN asteroid mission
Marco Velli, Professor in EPSS, Space physics, solar physics, solar wind acceleration physics, Solar Probe
Hilke Schlichting, Associate Professor in EPSS, planetary dynamics, formation of solar system
An Yin, Professor in EPSS, planetary tectonics,  icy satellites, laboratory simulations
Edward Young, Professor in EPSS, geochemistry and cosmochemistry, origin of water

October 8th, 2016: International Observe the Moon Night


Please join us on the evening of Saturday 08 October, 2016 from 7 to 9 PM to participate and celebrate the 2016 edition of International Observe the Moon Night! We will have telescopes set up on the roof (9th floor) of UCLA’s Mathematical Sciences Building. It’s FREE, open to the public, and you’ll be able to observe the Moon (weather permitting).

Please visit http://planets.ucla.edu/outreach/iotmn2016/ for more information and updates.

The Asteroid-Meteorite Connection Workshop at UCLA

AMCW2015-apr21-22The iPLEX-hosted Asteroid-Meteorite Connection Workshop occurred on 21 and 22 April 2016 and featured an international cast of scientists researching asteroids, meteorites and comets using several methods with the hope of achieving a more complete understanding of the formation and evolution of planetesimals in the early Solar System and extrasolar systems.  Details regarding the final program of the workshop are available here: http://planets.ucla.edu/meetings/upcoming-meetings/amcw2016/.

UCLA Researcher Alan Rubin featured in New York Times article

PP - alan rubin-tnDr. Alan Rubin, a researcher at UCLA and meteorite identification expert, was interviewed for a recent article by the New York Times. The article and Alan discuss the discovery of several meteorites in Florida and the history of the parent asteroid they likely came from. To read the full article, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/11/science/how-an-amateur-meteorite-hunter-tracked-down-a-fireball.html?hpw&rref=science&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region®ion=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0

Professor Ed Young named Fellow of two geochemical associations

edyoungCongratulations to Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences Professor Ed Young who has been named a Fellow of the Geochemical Society and of the European Association of Geochemistry.  The award is “bestowed upon outstanding scientists who have, over some years, made a major contribution to the field of geochemistry”.  Ed will be honored at the Goldschmidt meeting in Yokohama this summer.

Planets on Parade

Panorama 1 - Marked
Photo from UCLA campus on February 2nd, 2016. From left to right: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, the Moon, and Jupiter. Photo credit: James Weygand

Late January and early February have provided spectacular views of the planets in the early morning sky. It is the first time that the bright planets that can be seen with the naked eye have been simultaneously visible since 2005. In their outward order from the sun, the five bright planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. They are visible because they are large and relatively close compared with other celestial objects like stars. Their surfaces and disks reflect sunlight and shine steadily, compared to the distant twinkling light that emanates from stars.

Many of the planets are visible before dawn, however, it is only at twilight that you can catch all five planets because of their orbital location around the Sun. This is because of the planets’ relative positions in their orbits. Currently, all of the planets are located on the same side of the Sun (to the right when viewing the solar system from above), which means that as the Earth rotates they are all visible just before the sun rises over the eastern horizon. That means that the planets are also visible from almost anywhere on the globe, with the exception of the poles.

The five planets are visible all at the same time because from the Earth’s perspective they all lie to the right of the sun. So they rise one after another—Jupiter, then Mars, then Saturn, then Venus, and finally Mercury. Last, the sun rises and makes all five disappear with its morning rays. Image Credit: Katie Peek/Popular Science

You can continue to see the planets in close to dawn until mid-February, and can take spectacular photos using a long exposure setting on your camera. The photos here are taken from the UCLA Campus, taken by UCLA researcher James Weygand. If you look very closely, you can see a sixth planet (hint: the photographer is standing on it!). To see more photos like this from around the world here: EarthSky.

Photo credit: James Weygand