Could We Use Mars as a Base for Asteroid Mining?

A composite image of Mars and its two moons, Phobos (foreground) and Deimos (background). A new paper argues that mining the Main Belt of asteroids can be energetically and financially more advantageous from a facility based in a Phobos-like orbit around Mars, or even on Phobos itself, than from the Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The earliest mention of asteroid mining might be in a story from 1898 titled “Edison’s Conquest of Mars,” by Garrett Serviss. In that story, Martians attack Earth, killing tens of thousands and destroying New York City. Earth retaliates and sends an armada to Mars. While travelling, the armada comes across an asteroid that the Martians are mining. The asteroid is a rubble pile of gold nuggets.

A conversation breaks out among the crew.

“Phew! Won’t we be rich?” exclaimed a voice.

“How are we going to dig it and get it back to earth?” asked another.

“Carry it in your pockets,” said one.

“No need of staking claims here,” remarked another. “There is enough for everybody.”

Their conversation was a prescient hint of things to come.

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This is What the Metal Asteroid Psyche Might Look Like

Asteroid Psyche's varied surface suggests a dynamic history, which could include metallic eruptions, asteroid-shaking impacts, and a lost rocky mantle. Image Credit: Screenshot courtesy of NASA

If you wanted to do a forensic study of the Solar System, you might head for the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. That’s where you can find ancient rocks from the Solar System’s early days. Out there in the cold vacuum of space, far from the Sun, asteroids are largely untouched by space weathering. Space scientists sometimes refer to asteroids—and their meteorite fragments that fall to Earth—as time capsules because of the evidence they hold.

The asteroid Psyche is especially interesting, and NASA is sending a mission to investigate the unusual chunk of rock. In advance of that mission, a team of researchers combined observations of Psyche from an array of telescopes and constructed a map of the asteroid’s surface.

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Ceres Probably Formed Farther out in the Solar System and Migrated Inward

This image of Ceres was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 7, 2015, from a distance of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

When Sicilian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi spotted Ceres in 1801, he thought it was a planet. Astronomers didn’t know about asteroids at that time. Now we know there’s an enormous quantity of them, primarily residing in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Ceres is about 1,000 km in diameter and accounts for a third of the mass in the main asteroid belt. It dwarfs most of the other bodies in the belt. Now we know that it’s a planet—albeit a dwarf one—even though its neighbours are mostly asteroids.

But what’s a dwarf planet doing in the asteroid belt?

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The Building Blocks of Earth Could Have Come From Farther out in the Solar System

Artist's impression of the asteroid belt. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Earth formed over 4.5 billion years ago via accretion. Earth’s building blocks were chunks of rock of varying sizes. From dust to planetesimals and everything in between. Many of those chunks of rock were carbonaceous meteorites, which scientists think came from asteroids in the outer reaches of the main asteroid belt.

But some evidence doesn’t line up well behind that conclusion. A new study says that some of the Earth-forming meteorites came from much further out in the Solar System.

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Images of 42 of the Biggest Asteroids in the Solar System

This image depicts 42 of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. Most of them are larger than 100 kilometres, with the two biggest asteroids being Ceres and Vesta, which are around 940 and 520 kilometres in diameter, and the two smallest ones being Urania and Ausonia, each only about 90 kilometres. The images of the asteroids have been captured with the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

A huge team of astronomers have combined forces to use the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) to provide the sharpest view ever of 42 of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter.

Fittingly, the collection of images was released on the 42nd anniversary of the publication of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. In the book, the number 42 is the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” These 42 images represent some of the sharpest views ever of these objects  — which might contribute to answering these ultimate questions!

Plus, there’s a great poster of the asteroids, too:

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Scientists Figure out how the Asteroid Belt Attacked the Dinosaurs

How do you track an asteroid that hit the Earth over 60 million years ago?  By using a combination of geology and computer simulations, at least according to a team of scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).  Those methods might have let them solve a long-standing mystery of both archeology and astronomy – where did the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs come from?

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Two Bizarre red Asteroids Somehow Migrated From the Kuiper Belt all the way to the Main Asteroid Belt

If asked to pick what color asteroids in the asteroid belt would be, red is likely not one that would come to mind for most people.  But that is exactly the color of two new asteroids found by Hasegawa Sunao of JAXA and an international team of researchers.  The catch is the objects don’t appear to be from the asteroid belt at all, but are most likely Trans-Neptunian objects that were somehow transported into what is commonly thought of as the asteroid belt. How exactly they got there is still up for debate.

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Success! OSIRIS-REx Touches Asteroid Bennu to Collect Samples

Artist concept of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft as it readies itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Out in the asteroid belt, 207 million miles (334 million km) from Earth, a little spacecraft briefly touched down on the surface of Asteroid Bennu today, attempting to collect samples of dust and rocks.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) spent about 10 seconds on the ancient asteroid to collect samples, slated to come back to Earth in 2023.  While mission scientists and engineers need to confirm that samples from the asteroid were collected, preliminary data show that every step of the procedure went as planned.

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Bennu is Constantly Getting Sandblasted by Tiny Meteoroids

This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 images collected on Dec. 2, 2018, by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's PolyCam instrument from a range of 15 miles (24 kilometers). Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

As soon as the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at asteroid Bennu in December 2018, there was a big surprise. Scientists expected Bennu’s surface would consist of fine-grained material like a sandy beach. But take a look at that surface: Bennu is a jumbled mess.

Here’s a closer view:

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New Images of the “Golf Ball” Asteroid Pallas

New images of Pallas reveal a "golf ball asteroid" landscape. Credit: MIT/Marsset et al.

In 1802, German astronomer Heinrich Olbers observed what he thought was a planet within the Main Asteroid Belt. In time, astronomers would come to name this body Pallas, an alternate name for the Greek warrior goddess Athena. The subsequent discovery of many more asteroids in the Main Belt would lead to Pallas being reclassified as a large asteroid, the third-largest in the Belt after Ceres and Vesta.

For centuries, astronomers have sought to get a better look at Pallas to learn more about its size, shape, and composition. As of the turn of the century, astronomers had come to conclude that it was an oblate spheroid (an elongated sphere). Thanks to a new study by an international team, the first detailed images of Pallas have finally been taken, which reveal that its shape is more akin to a “golf ball” – i.e. heavily dimpled.

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