Comets and Interstellar Objects Could be Exporting Earth Life Out into the Milky Way

For over a century, proponents of Panspermia have argued that life is distributed throughout our galaxy by comets, asteroids, space dust, and planetoids. But in recent years, scientists have argued that this type of distribution may go beyond star systems and be intergalactic in scale. Some have even proposed intriguing new mechanisms for how this distribution could take place.

For instance, it is generally argued that meteorite and asteroid impacts are responsible for kicking up the material that would transport microbes to other planets. However, in a recent study, two Harvard astronomers examine the challenges that this would present and suggest another means – Earth-grazing objects that collect microbes from our atmosphere and then get flung into deep-space.

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This Summer’s Asteroid Near-Miss Helped Greenlight NASA’s NEOCam Mission to Search the Skies for Killer Spacerocks

NEO asteroid

Last July, a once-in-a-lifetime event happened. Not the good kind; the football-field-sized-asteroid near-miss kind. And that near miss is the catalyst for a renewed effort from NASA to detect more dangerous space-rocks that might threaten Earth.

Last summer’s near-miss asteroid was named 2019 OK, and it passed within about 77,000 km (48,000 miles) of Earth. It managed to slip past all of our detection methods and came within 0.19 lunar distances to Earth. In astronomical terms, that is remarkably close.

We only had 24 hours notice that the asteroid was coming, thanks to a small telescope in Brazil that spotted it. That near miss has sparked a renewed conversation on planetary defense and on NASA’s role in it.

It also left people wondering how this could happen.

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Hayabusa 2 has one Last Lander it’s Going to Throw at Ryugu

On June 27th, 2018, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency‘s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 spacecraft reached asteroid 162173 Ryugu. As part of JAXA’s program to study Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs), this mission has spent over a year conducting landing operations, shooting up the surface with “bullets” and an anti-tank warhead, and collecting samples from the surface and interior that will eventually be returned to Earth.

This past Monday (Sept. 16th), Hayabusa2 released two target markers as part of its “target marker separation operation” (which ran from Sept. 12th to Sept. 17th). This consisted of two 10 cm (4 in) balls covered in reflective material being released in orbit around Ryugu. This operation puts the mission a step closer to the deployment of the mission’s MINERVA-II2 Rover-2, which will be landing on the asteroid’s surface next month.

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A Distant Asteroid Collision Gave Earthly Biodiversity An Ancient Boost

About 466 million years ago, there was an asteroid collision in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The collision caused the breakup of a major asteroid, creating a shower of dust throughout the inner Solar System. That event is called the Ordovician Meteor Event, and its dust caused an ice age here on Earth.

That ice age contributed to an enormous boost in biodiversity on ancient Earth.

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Metallic Asteroids Might Have Had Volcanoes Erupting Molten Iron. That’s So Metal

Remember the asteroid Psyche? It’s the largest known asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s been in the news because of its unusual properties, and because NASA plans to launch a mission to Psyche in 2022.

Psyche, aka 16 Psyche, is unusual because it’s quite different from other asteroids. Psyche appears to be the remnant, exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet. Because of that, Psyche is a building block left over from the early Solar System, when planets were still forming. It’s like a planet without a crust.

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Europe and US are Going to Try and Deflect an Asteroid

Next week, asteroid researchers and spacecraft engineers from all around the world will gather in Rome to discuss the latest in asteroid defense. The three-day International AIDA Workshop, which will run from Sept. 11th to 13th, will focus on the development of the joint NASA-ESA Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission.

The purpose of this two-spacecraft system is to deflect the orbit of one of the bodies that make up the binary asteroid Didymos, which orbits between Earth and Mars. While one spacecraft will collide with a binary Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA), the other will observe the impact and survey the crash site in order to gather as much data as possible about this method of asteroid defense.

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Asteroid Ryugu is a “Fragile Rubble Pile”

When Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft arrived at asteroid Ryugu in June 2018, it carried four small rovers with it. Hayabusa 2 is primarily a sample-return mission, but JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) sent rovers along to explore the asteroid’s surface and learn as much as they could from their visit. There’s also no guarantee that the sample return will be successful.

They chose Ryugu because the asteroid is classified as a primitive carbonaceous asteroid. This type of asteroid is a desirable target because it represents the primordial matter that formed the bodies in our Solar System. It’s also pretty close to Earth.

The sample from Ryugu, which will make it to Earth in December 2020, is the big science prize from this mission. Analyzing it in Earth-based laboratories will tell us a lot more than spacecraft instruments can. But the rovers that landed on Ryugu’s surface have already revealed a lot about Ryugu.

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Watch this Amazing Video of Hayabusa 2 Picking Up a Sample from the Surface of Ryugu

A new video shows Japan’s Hayabusa 2 sample return spacecraft collecting samples from asteroid Ryugu. The spacecraft has been at Ryugu for months now, and it’s all been leading up to this. In the video, you can clearly see airborne asteroid dust and particles swirling around in the low gravity.

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