Space Photos of the Week: YORP Effect, Cosmic Ducks, and More

Our solar system is full of some pretty odd things, as well as phenomena that are so stunning and beautiful it’s hard to even grasp. We’ll start close to home, though, just above the atmosphere in the International Space Station. Astronauts there take photos through the windows all the time, capturing auroras and massive hurricanes as well as plenty of sunrises and sunsets. This photo should also remind us that, even though we like to look at space, we are also in space. Our atmosphere is a thin blue line, delicate and hazy. It is all that protects us and separates us from the vastness we are always trying to reach.

We will visit Mars next, to say goodbye to the final resting place of the Opportunity rover, an area once covered in water called Meridiani Planum. Not too far from there is another region scarred by the dust devils that kick up dust and reveal the darker, older material below.

And, still staying within our solar system, we will swing by an asteroid called Gault that is being torn apart by our sun in a fun phenomenon called the YORP effect, or Yarkovsky–O'Keefe–Radzievskii–Paddack, named after the people who discovered it. The sun warms the asteroid’s surface, which results in some of that heat being radiated back out into space. As the heat escapes the asteroid, it removes a little bit of its momentum, sort of acting like small nudges. As a result Gault spins, and then spins faster. And as it spins, chunks of debris and rock create massive landslides that shift material away and out into space, resulting not only in an enormous comet-like tail, but in the ultimate destruction of the asteroid itself. Scientists interested in planetary protection are actually thinking of using the YORP effect as a way to deflect potentially hazardous asteroids from impacting Earth. Engage laser blasters! Prepare for YORP!

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