Tag: asteroid

NASA Spacecraft Finds Water In Search For Origins Of Life On Asteroid

A NASA spacecraft that just arrived last December 2018 on an asteroid has already made its first big discovery: ingredients for water.

Scientists hope that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will shed light on the mysteries of Bennu, an asteroid the size of a skyscraper that could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.

The craft only arrived at the asteroid in recent days but the discovery of water is a major breakthrough that scientists hope can be matched by more discoveries in the future.

It was found when OSIRIS-REx flew close to the asteroid and picked up traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in its rocky surface. Those make up part of the recipe for water – itself a key ingredient in life itself.




The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth.

There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.

Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023.

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Will an asteroid hit Earth? Frequent Asteroid Questions (FAQ)

Should I be worried about asteroids hitting Earth?

No, and yes. You shouldn’t lose sleep over it because damaging asteroids do not hit very often.

But you should care about it: they have hit and dangerous asteroids will hit again, unless we prevent that from happening—which we can if we put in the work to find, track, characterize asteroids, develop methods to deflect dangerous asteroids, and internationally coordinate and educate.

What is an asteroid, exactly?

An asteroid is a small, rocky or metallic object orbiting the Sun. They are now usually defined as being larger than 1 meter in diameter with objects smaller than that being called meteoroids.

The largest asteroid is Ceres at 965 km (600 mi) diameter. Most asteroids, including Ceres, are located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but some asteroids come near to or cross Earth’s orbit.

How do asteroids form? Where do asteroids come from?

Asteroids are typically material left over from the period of planetary formation 4.5 billion years ago, the stuff left over that didn’t form into planets in the inner solar system.  Often they are fragments of collisions between asteroids in the past.




How many near-Earth asteroids are there?

Using the cut-off for asteroid diameter of 1 meter, there are estimated to be more than half a billion near-Earth asteroids.

For objects that cause major damage if they hit Earth (larger than about 30 meters), there are about a million. So far, we are approaching 20,000 found.

It is easier to find larger objects, so we think we have found more than 90% of the asteroids 1 km and above, but for smaller asteroids still capable of causing major regional damage, we have only found a small percentage.

Are there any asteroids heading for Earth?

There are a few asteroids that currently are known to have a low probability of hitting Earth in tens to hundreds of years.

What are near-Earth objects and how could they affect us?

For example, one of the highest probabilities currently is an approximately 37 meter diameter asteroid called 2000 SG344 that has a 1 in 1100 chance of impact in 2071.

But these always are based on asteroid observations that have uncertainties in them. Usually, as more observations are obtained, the impact probability will drop to 0; in other words we know it won’t hit.

JPL keeps an online list of all asteroids with any probability of hitting Earth.

The big uncertainty is that we haven’t discovered most of near Earth asteroids yet, so we don’t know if they are on a collision course with Earth, which is why finding and tracking them is crucial.

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NASA Craft Shows Tiny Asteroid Studded With Boulders

NASA’s first look at a tiny asteroid shows the space rock is more moist and studded with boulders than originally thought.

Scientists released the first morsels of data collected since their spacecraft Osiris-Rex hooked up last week with the asteroid Bennu, which is only about three blocks wide and weighs about 80 million tons.

Bennu regularly crosses Earth’s orbit and will come perilously close in about 150 years. There is no liquid water on the asteroid, but there is plenty of it in the form of wet clay.

Project scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona said the blueish space rock is “a little more rugged of an environment than we expected” with hundreds of 10-metre boulders, instead of just one or two.

There’s also a bigger 50-metre boulder which looks like two cones put together with a bulge on its waistline.

Scientists think Bennu is a leftover from the beginning of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago when planets tried to form and some failed.

Mr Lauretta said it looks like Bennu was once a chunk of a bigger asteroid that probably had water in it.




When Osiris-Rex starts orbiting Bennu in January — no easy feat since its gravity is 100,000 times less than Earth’s — it will be the smallest object that a human-made spacecraft has circled.

Scientists will spend a year scouting the space rock for a good location and then in 2020 it will dive close to the surface and a robotic arm will shoot nitrogen puffs into the soil and collect grains of dirt.

Those asteroid bits will be returned to Earth in 2023.

The 800 million dollar (£636 million) Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its odometer read 1.2 billion miles last week.

The spacecraft and asteroid names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.

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NASA Probe Arrives at Asteroid Bennu on Monday

I hope you’re not all partied out after the InSight lander’s successful touchdown on Mars this week, because there’s another big spaceflight event just around the corner.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe will officially arrive at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu at about 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) today, Monday (Dec. 3), ending a 27-month deep-space chase.

NASA will mark the occasion with a special webcast event from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. EST (1645 to 1715 GMT), which you can watch live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV.

The space agency will also air an “arrival preview program” at 11:15 a.m. EST (1615 GMT). You can catch that here at Space.com as well.

The $800 million OSIRIS-REx mission launched on Sept. 8, 2016, embarking on a looping trek toward the 1,640-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu.

Upon arrival, the probe will take up a position about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the space rock, NASA officials said.

OSIRIS-REx will then fly by Bennu repeatedly over the next four weeks, gathering data that will help mission team members establish the asteroid’s mass.

With this information in hand, OSIRIS-REx will slide into orbit around the space rock on Dec. 31 — just hours before NASA’s New Horizons probe cruises past the distant object Ultima Thule, billions of miles from Earth.




The diamond-shaped Bennu will then become the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.

OSIRIS-REx will study the rock from orbit for the next 18 months or so and then make its way down to Bennu’s surface to grab a sizeable sample of material in mid-2020.

The spacecraft will depart the asteroid in March 2021, and the sample will come down to Earth in a special return capsule in September 2023.

Scientists around the world will study this material, looking for clues about the role that carbon-rich asteroids such as Bennu may have played in bringing the building blocks of life to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx — which is short for “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer” — will also make significant contributions in other ways, mission team members have said.

For example, the probe’s measurements should help researchers better understand the resource potential of Bennu-like space rocks.

And other data will increase knowledge of how asteroids move through space, which in turn should improve predictions of where hazardous rocks are headed.

Bennu is itself a potentially dangerous asteroid; there’s a very small probability that it could hit Earth in the late 22nd century.

OSIRIS-REx isn’t the only active asteroid-sampling mission. Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft is currently orbiting the 3,000-foot-wide (900 m) Ryugu, which shares Bennu’s diamond shape.

Hayabusa2 will grab a Ryugu sample next year and return it to Earth in late 2020, if all goes according to plan.

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Blue Meteorite Crystals Reveal The Sun’s Wild Youth

A tiny hibonite crystal from the Murchison meteorite.

Ancient and rare blue crystals from the dawn of the solar system help confirm that the newborn sun was violently active, a new study reports.

Astronomers previously found that stars are typically incredibly energetic very early in their evolution. Scientists had suspected the same was true of the sun after it was born about 4.6 billion years ago.

The sun was very active in its early life — it had more eruptions and gave off a more intense stream of charged particles,” study co-author Philipp Heck, a curator at The Field Museum in Chicago, said in a statement.

“I think of my son — he’s three; he’s very active, too.”

However, proving this “early active sun hypothesis” is challenging because it is difficult to find material that recorded what the early sun was like and that also survived billions of years unscathed.+




Almost nothing in the solar system is old enough to really confirm the early sun’s activity,” Heck said in the statement.

To hunt for such evidence, the researchers analyzed samples from the Murchison meteorite, which crashed in 1969 near the town of Murchison, in the Australian state of Victoria.

This meteorite, which is kept at The Field Museum in Chicago, dates to the early solar system and is renowned in the scientific community for its abundance of organic molecules.

As the giant disk of gas and dust that surrounded the early sun cooled down about 4.5 billion years ago, the earliest minerals began to form — microscopic, ice-blue crystals named hibonites, the largest of which were only a few times the diameter of a human hair.

Lead author Levke Kööp at work in the lab.

They are likely among the first minerals that formed in the solar system,” study lead author Levke Kööp, a cosmochemist at the University of Chicago said.

If the early sun spewed out lots of energetic particles, some of these should have struck calcium and aluminum in the crystals, splitting those atoms into smaller atoms of neon and helium.

This evidence of an early active sun could have remained trapped unscathed within the crystals for billions of years and been incorporated into rocks that eventually fell to Earth for scientists to study.

The scientists analyzed the crystals using a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer in Switzerland — a garage-sized machine that can determine an object’s chemical makeup.

A tiny hibonite crystal from the Murchison meteorite.

A laser melted tiny grains of hibonite crystals, and the mass spectrometer then analyzed its contents.

The mass spectrometer was specifically designed to look for traces of noble gases, such as helium and neon. The researchers found a surprisingly large signal clearly showing the presence of helium and neon.

This may be the first concrete evidence of the sun’s long-suspected early activity, the researchers said.

Future research on ancient meteorite crystals might help reveal details about the protoplanetary disk of gas and dust around the sun that ultimately gave rise to the planets, such as how hot or cold different parts of this disk were.

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Hayabusa 2 Spacecraft Cozies Up To Gemstone-Shaped Asteroid

Asteroids come in all shapes and sizes. We’ve seen a die and a skull and now we can add a gemstone to the list.

JAXA, Japan’s space agency, posted images of the asteroid Ryugu as seen by its fast-approaching Hayabusa 2 spacecraft.

Hayabusa 2 is the sequel to Japan’s original Hayabusa asteroid mission, which returned to Earth in 2010 after touching down on an asteroid named Itokawa.

The probe successfully gathered sample particles from the asteroid and brought them back to Earth. The current mission will also try to gather and return samples from Ryugu.




JAXA’s asteroid hunter launched in late 2014 and has since traveled about 2 billion miles (3.2 billion kilometers). It is now sending back our best-ever looks at the distant space object.

A photograph from June 24 shows the asteroid’s rough surface and diamond-like shape.

JAXA describes the shape as being similar to the mineral flourite, which is known as the “firefly stone” in Japanese. The space agency also suggests it looks a bit like an abacus bead.

The asteroid’s angular shape poses some challenges to Hayabasu 2’s plan to place a lander and three miniature rovers on its surface.

There is a peak in the vicinity of the equator and a number of large craters, which makes the selection of the landing points both interesting and difficult,” says JAXA.

Hayabusa2 will hang out at Ryugu for over a year and eventually return to Earth near the end of 2020.

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Asteroid From Another Star System Is Unlike Anything Seen Before

The object, called ‘Oumuamua, is probably an asteroid that’s at least 10 times longer than it is wide.

Something strange sailed past Earth last month, and thanks to some quick work, astronomers managed to get their first good look at a visitor from interstellar space.

Now named ‘Oumuamua, Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first,” the object is the first known lump of rock and ice from another star system, which gives astronomers a chance to glimpse a scrap left over from an alien planet’s formation.




This has been crazy-cool. For the asteroid community, this is as big as the gravitational-wave announcement,” NASA astronomer Joseph Masiero said when the object was discovered, referencing the recent detections of ripples in space-time that have been amazing astrophysicists.

It’s extraordinarily elongated, which is extremely unusual—we don’t see anything like that in our solar system,” says study leader Karen Meech of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy.

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Ancient Canadian Meteor Strike Created Hottest Rock On Earth

Millions of years ago, a city-sized asteroid smashed into Labrador with so much force that it heated rocks to a whopping 2,370 C, the hottest temperature ever known for a rock on the surface of the Earth, scientists say.

The rock was found by Michael Zanetti, now a post-doctoral researcher in earth sciences at Western University in London, Ont., in 2011.

At that time, he was part of a mock “mission to the moon” at 28-kilometre-wide Mistastin Lake crater left behind by the powerful asteroid impact.

Now an analysis led by Nicholas Timms at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, reports evidence that the rock was exposed to record-breaking temperatures — described as “the highest recorded from any crystal rock.




The research by Timms, Zanetti and colleagues in Australia, Switzerland and the U.S., was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Mistastin Lake crater was created when a five-kilometre-wide asteroid exploded near the surface of the Earth just east of what is now the Labrador-Quebec interprovincial boundary 38 million years ago, when the early forerunners of today’s horses, deer and rodents roamed North America.

The crater is used by space scientists as a stand-in or “analog” for the far side of the moon because both those places are covered in a type of pale-coloured rock called anorthosite, said Zanetti.

In 2011, the Canadian Space Agency funded three missions to the crater to test how efficient it was to have an astronaut and robotic rover exploring together, and Zanetti, then a PhD. student at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., took part in the third.

The team was exploring about halfway up the wall of the crater called Discovery Hill, where you can find solidified “pools” of rock that had been melted during the impact.

Most of the rocks are dull, normal-looking volcanic rocks, Zanetti said.

So when you see something that looks a little exotic, you’re like, ‘What the heck is that?‘”

A fist sized, shiny, glassy rock sitting on the ground caught Zanetti’s eye.

He brought it back to the lab, took a slice, and put it under the microscope.

When we looked at this, we saw that there was this kind of weird-looking zircon grain.”

Zircon is a special mineral to geologists because it doesn’t melt, even at temperatures that melt all the surrounding rocks, and it’s hard to break.

That means it lasts a very long time and can be used to figure out how old the surrounding rocks are, Zanetti said.

In this case, the zircon grain was surrounded by a strange brown rim.

A colleague suggested that might be caused by decomposition. While zircon doesn’t melt, it does break down into other minerals, zirconia and silica, when it gets close to 1,700 C.

An analysis using an electron microscope confirmed that the grain was surrounded by zirconia.

Just like pure carbon comes in different shapes and forms, such as graphite, diamond and nanotubes, so does zirconia.

The best known is probably cubic zirconia, used to make “fake diamonds” for jewelry. It’s manufactured at very high temperatures above 2,370 C because at temperatures below that, it tends to convert to other forms.

During manufacture of cubic zirconia gemstones, a stabilizer is added to prevent that conversion.

Analysis of the zirconia in Zanetti’s rock using techniques that he likens to “forensic geology” shows evidence that, in fact, it had once been cubic zirconia and was therefore heated to at least 2,370 C before cooling.

Because zirconia melts around 2,650 C, researchers know the rock never got any hotter than that. (For reference, the surface of the sun is about 5,500 C).

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