Metal Asteroid Psyche Might Have Had Volcanoes of Molten Iron

An artist's illustration of a metallic asteroid like Psyche. Image Credit: Elena Hartley/USC

Imagine a time in the Solar System’s past where the asteroids were not solid rock, but blobs of molten iron. It sounds strange, but that may have been the case. And in the right conditions, some of those asteroids would have sprouted volcanoes. One of those asteroids, Psyche, is the destination for a NASA mission.

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Hayabusa2 Fires an Anti-Tank Warhead at Asteroid Ryugu

Asteroid Ryugu, as imaged by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. The red dot marks the sampling location. Image Credit: JAXA/Hayabusa2

Last week, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency‘s (JAXA) dropped an explosive warhead on the surface of asteroid 162173 Ryugu. You might think this was the opening line of an entirely-readable science fiction novel, but it’s totally true. The operation began on April 4th, when the Hayabusa2 spacecraft sent its Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI) down to Ryugu’s surface and then detonated it to create a crater.

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Asteroid Bennu has Already Thrown Material off into Space 11 Times Since OSIRIS-REx Arrived

On Dec. 31st, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) rendezvoused with the asteroid 101955 Bennu. As part of an asteroid sample-return mission, NASA hopes that material from this near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) will reveal things about the history of the Solar System, the formation of its planets, and the origins of life on Earth.

Since the spacecraft established orbit around the asteroid, it has witnessed some interesting phenomena. This includes the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid’s surface. Since that time, the mission team has kept an eye out for these eruptions, which has allowed them to witness a total of 11 “ejection events” since the spacecraft first arrived.

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Shout Out to Japan! Their Hayabusa2 Spacecraft has Collected its First Samples from Asteroid Ryugu

An illustration of JAXA's Hayabusa2 spacecraft. The spacecraft has completed its first sampling maneuver. Image Credit: JAXA

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft has completed an important part of its mission to asteroid Ryugu. The spacecraft descended to the surface of the asteroid to collect two samples with its sampling horn. We don’t know for sure if samples were successfully collected, but all indications are that the sampling mission went well.

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Japan’s Hayabusa2 is About to Shoot Up the Surface of Ryugu with Tiny Impactors so they can Collect a Sample

An illustration of Hayabusa2 at the surface of Ryugu, ready to collect a sample of the asteroid. Image Credit: By JGarry at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Drilnoth using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6385449

Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission is about to get down to business. After arriving at asteroid Ryugu at the end of June 2018, and dispatching its tiny rovers to the surface, the spacecraft is about to approach the surface of the asteroid and get some samples.

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ESA is Planning a Mission to the Smallest Spacerock Ever Visited: the Moon of an Asteroid

An illustration of the ESA's Hera spacecraft at Didymos. Image Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org

For some small minority of humans, Death By Asteroid is a desirable fate. The idea probably satisfies their wonky Doomsday thinking. But for the rest of us, going out the same way the dinosaurs did would just be embarrassing. Thankfully, the ESA’s Hera mission will visit the smallest spacerock ever, and will help us avoid going the way of the dinosaurs.

For added kicks, it will forestall the happiness of any over-earger doomsday cultists, and the rest of us can revel in their existential anguish.

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Steam-Powered Spacecraft Could Explore the Asteroid Belt Forever, Refueling Itself in Space

The era of renewed space exploration has led to some rather ambitious proposals. While many have been on the books for decades, it has only been in recent years that some of these plans have become technologically feasible. A good example is asteroid mining, where robotic spacecraft would travel to Near-Earth Asteroids and the Main Asteroid Belt to harvest minerals and other resources.

At the moment, one of the main challenges is how these craft would be able to get around and refuel once they are in space. To address this, the New York-based company Honeybee Robotics has teemed up with the University of Central Florida (UFC) to develop a steam-powered robotic spacecraft. The company recently released a demonstration video that shows their prototype World is Not Enough (WINE) “steam hopper” in action.

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Interstellar Objects like Oumuamua Probably Crash into the Sun Every 30 Years or so and 2 Pass Within the Orbit of Mercury

On October 19th, 2017, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System-1 (Pan-STARRS-1) in Hawaii announced the first-ever detection of an interstellar object, named 1I/2017 U1 (aka. ‘Oumuamua). In the months that followed, multiple follow-up observations were conducted to learn more about this visitor, as well as resolve the dispute about whether it was a comet and an asteroid.

Rather than resolving the dispute, additional observations only deepened the mystery, even giving rise to suggestions that it might be an extra-terrestrial solar sail. For this reason, scientists are very interested in finding other examples of ‘Oumuamua-like objects. According to a recent study by a team of Harvard astrophysicists, it is possible that interstellar objects enter our system and end up falling into in our Sun somewhat regularly.

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OSIRIS-REx Has Already Found Water on Bennu

The asteroid Bennu from a distance of 24 km (15) miles captured by the PolyCam on OSIRIS-REx. The spacecraft has detected water on Bennu. On the bottom right in the termination line is the large boulder. The image is a mosaic constructed of 12 images. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) has found water on the asteroid Bennu. Bennu is OSIRIS-REx’s only target, and though the spacecraft arrived at the asteroid on December 3rd, some of its instruments have been trained on the asteroid since mid-August. And two of those instruments detected water on Bennu.

OSIRIS-REx wasn’t sent to Bennu just to find water. The mission is NASA’s first asteroid sample-return mission. The presence of water on Bennu confirms what the science team hoped would be true when they selected the asteroid as the spacecraft’s destination: Bennu is an excellent target for scientific inquiry into the early Solar System.

“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics.” – Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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