Comets are instantly recognizable by their tails of gas and dust. Most comets originate in the far, frozen reaches of our Solar System, and only visit the inner Solar System occasionally. But some are in the Main Asteroid Belt, mixed in with the debris left over after the Solar System formed.
Astronomers just found water vapour coming from one of them.
One of the things astronomers would love to see is planets forming around other stars. That would help us understand our own Solar System better. But it all happens behind a veil of obscuring dust. The James Webb Space Telescope has the power to see through the veil.
A team of astronomers pointed the JWST at the well-known star Fomalhaut and its dusty debris disk. They found more complexity than they imagined, including hints of planets forming among all that dust and debris.
If you’ve ever been at sea or visited a seacoast, you probably looked out at the vast expanse of ocean and wondered, “How did all this water get here?” The answer goes back to Earth’s origins some 4.5 billion years ago. In those early times, water-rich planetesimals and other bodies transported water to our still-growing planet. A recent discovery of a previously unknown population of such asteroids between Mars and Jupiter seems to prove that point.
NASA’s Psyche mission is back on track for launch and is now scheduled for a potential October 2023 launch date, according to an October 2022 statement from NASA. This comes after missing its originally planned launch date between August and October of 2022, and becoming subject to an independent review board, whose results were announced in November 2022.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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?