Could We Use Mars as a Base for Asteroid Mining?

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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Samples of Asteroid Ryugu Contain More Than 20 Amino Acids

In 2014, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) dispatched its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to rendezvous with 162173 Ryugu, a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) that periodically passes close to Earth. In 2018, this sample-return mission reached Ryugu and spent the next year and a half studying its surface and obtaining samples from its surface and subsurface. By 2020, these samples made it back to Earth, where scientists began analyzing them in the hopes of learning more about the early history of the Solar System and answering key questions about the origins of life.

Earlier this year, the first results of the analysis showed that Ryugu is (as expected) rich in carbon, organic molecules, and volatiles (like water) and hinted at the possibility that it was once a comet. Based on a more recent analysis, eight teams of Japanese researchers (including one from JAXA) recently announced that Ryugu carries strains of no less than 20 different amino acids -the building blocks of DNA and life itself! These findings could provide new insight into how life is distributed throughout the cosmos and could mean that it is more common than previously thought.

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This is What the Metal Asteroid Psyche Might Look Like

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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Astronomers Just Practiced What Would Happen if a Potentially Dangerous Asteroid was Detected

In and around our planet, there are thousands of comets and asteroids known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). Multiple space agencies and government affiliates are responsible for tracking them, especially those known as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA). These objects are so-designated because they will cross Earth’s orbit and may even collide with it someday. Considering how impacts in the past have caused mass extinctions (like the Chicxulub Impact Event that killed the dinosaurs), future impacts are something we would like to avoid!

Monitoring PHAs is a huge responsibility that requires a worldwide effort, including tracking, alerts, and disaster preparedness. Last year, over 100 participants from 18 countries (including NASA scientists and the NEOWISE mission) conducted an international exercise that simulated an encounter with an asteroid that made a close flyby to Earth. As NASA revealed in a recently-released study, the exercise was a complete success. The lessons learned could help avert real impacts in the near future or significantly limit the devastation one could cause.

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

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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Eight Missions are Getting Extensions, Most Exciting: OSIRIS-REx is Going to Asteroid Apophis

NASA has granted mission extensions to eight different planetary missions, citing the continued excellent operations of the spacecraft, but more importantly, the sustained scientific productivity of these missions, “and the potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.” Each mission will be extended for three more years.

One of the most exciting extensions gives a new mission to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, sending it to one of the most infamous asteroids of them all, the potentially hazardous asteroid Apophis.

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Asteroid Ryugu Might Actually Be a Dead Comet

In 2014, the Japanese Space Agency JAXA launched the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft to visit asteroid Ryugu. It arrived at the asteroid in June 2018 and studied it from orbit for over a year. Hayabusa 2 even dispatched four rovers to the asteroid’s surface. After departing, it flew past Earth in December 2020, dropping off a sample of Ryugu.

Of all the scientific results from that impressive mission, the most interesting one might be this: Asteroid Ryugu might not be an asteroid. It might be the remnant of a comet.

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

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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A Tiny Asteroid was Discovered Mere Hours Before it Crashed Into the Earth

Last week, a small asteroid was detected just two hours before it impacted Earth’s atmosphere. Luckily, it was only about 3 meters (10 feet) wide, and the space rock, now known as 2022 EB5 likely burned up in Earth’s atmosphere near Iceland at 21:22 UTC on March 11.

While it is wonderful that astronomers can detect asteroids of that size heading towards our planet — as well as determine the asteroid’s trajectory and precisely predicted its impact location — the last-minute nature of the discovery definitely causes a pause. What if it had been bigger?

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