OSIRIS-REx’s Final Haul: 121.6 Grams from Asteroid Bennu

These eight sample trays contain the final material from asteroid Bennu. The dust and rocks were poured into the trays from the top plate of the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head. 51.2 grams were collected from this pour, bringing the final mass of asteroid sample to 121.6 grams. Credit: NASA/Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebersold

After several months of meticulous, careful work, NASA has the final total for their haul of asteroidal material from the OSIRIS-REx mission to Bennu. The highly successful mission successfully collected 121.6 grams, or almost 4.3 ounces, of rock and dust. It won’t be long before scientists get their hands on these samples and start analyzing them.

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Water Found on the Surface of an Asteroid

Courtesy of NASA/Carla Thomas/SwRI Using data from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), Southwest Research Institute scientists have discovered, for the first time, water molecules on the surface of an asteroid. Scientists looked at four silicate-rich asteroids using the FORCAST instrument to isolate the mid-infrared spectral signatures indicative of molecular water on two of them.

Our Solar System is a collection of objects from planets and moons to comets and asteroids. It’s thought there are upwards of 1 million asteroids orbiting the Sun and it was thought that any water present on them should have evaporate long ago. A recent study using data from the SOFIA infrared telescope discovered water on the asteroids Iris and Massalia. 

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What Happened to All Those Boulders Blasted into Space by DART?

Hubble Image of the DART Impact

It was a $325 million dollar project that was intentionally smashed to smithereens in the interest of one day, saving humanity. The DART mission (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) launched in November 2021 on route to asteroid Dimorphos. Its mission was simple, to smash into Dimorphos to see if it may be possible to redirect it from its path. On impact, it created a trail of debris from micron to meter sized objects. A new paper analyses the debris field to predict where they might end up. 

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Fragments From That Asteroid That Exploded Above Berlin Have Been Recovered and They're Really Special

Artist's impression of a Near-Earth Asteroid passing by Earth. Credit: ESA

On January 21st, 2024, a meter-sized asteroid (2024 BX1) entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded over Berlin at 12:33 am UTC (07:45 pm EST; 04:33 pm PST). Before it reached Earth, 2024 BX1 was a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) with an orbit that suggests it was part of the Apollo group. The fragments have since been located by a team of scientists from the Freie Universität Berlin, the Museum für Naturkunde (MfN), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Technische Universität Berlin, and the SETI Institute and identified as a rare type of asteroid known as “aubrites.”

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Another Asteroid Discovered Hours Before it Impacts the Earth

What were you doing last Saturday? As it turns out, I was doing something rather unexciting… Trying to fix my washing machine (I did – in case you are interested). At the same time, Hungarian geography teacher by day and asteroid hunter by night Krisztián Sárneczky was out observing and detected a small asteroid which it transpired was on a collision course with Earth! 

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Finally, Let’s Look at the Asteroid Treasure Returned to Earth by OSIRIS-REx

A top-down view of the OSIRIS-REx Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism (TAGSAM) head with the lid removed, revealing the remainder of the asteroid sample inside. Photo: NASA/Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebersold

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx delivered its precious cargo to Earth on September 24th, 2023. The sample from asteroid Bennu is contained inside the spacecraft’s sampling head, and it’s in safe hands at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Two stubborn fasteners delayed the opening of the sampling head, but they’ve been removed, and now we can see inside.

What looks like unremarkable dirt is primordial asteroidal material that’s billions of years old, a natural treasure trove that eager scientists can’t wait to begin studying.

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Engineers Finally Open OSIRIS-REx’s Sample Container

OSIRIS REx curation team attempting to remove the two stuck fasteners that are currently prohibiting the complete opening of the TAGSAM head. Photo Date: January 10, 2024. Location: Bldg. 31 - 2nd Floor - OSIRIS-REx lab. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

We have all been there, had that one stubborn jar of jam that we just can’t open. Maybe you grab a rubber band or run it under warm water and its an easy fix but just imagine when the jar is a module from a $1.16 billion interplanetary probe! That’s what happened to NASA engineers when they were trying to recover samples from the OSIRIS-REx module  when they discovered the clamps had cold welded shut! 

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Miniaturized Jumping Robots Could Study An Asteroid’s Gravity

Missions focusing on small bodies in the solar system have been coming thick and fast lately. OSIRIS-Rex, Psyche, and Rosetta are all examples of projects that planned or did rendezvous with a small body in the solar system. But one of their biggest challenges is understanding the gravity of these bodies – which was especially evident when Philae, Rosetta’s lander, had a hard time staying on the surface of its intended comet. A new idea from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory could help solve that problem – by bouncing small probes around.

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Finally. A Productive Use for Nuclear Weapons: Asteroid Defense

Four different asteroids and how nuclear ablation affects asteroids of different makeups.
A modeling tool developed by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows the progression an asteroid being broken up by a theoretical nuclear device detonated near the the surface of the near-Earth object. Graphic illustration courtesy of Mary Burkey.

While it has been a favorite disaster movie theme, nuking an incoming asteroid in the real world has been touted as a very bad idea. While a nuclear bomb could possibly obliterate a smaller asteroid, nuking a larger asteroid would only break it into pieces. Those pieces would still threaten our planet, and perhaps even makes things worse by producing multiple impacts across the planet.  

But is using nuclear weapons on an incoming asteroid really a bad idea? If the right technique is used, a nuclear blast could possibly be used as an asteroid deflection device.  

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Psyche Gives Us Its First Images of Space

NASA's Psyche spacecraft has released its first images. The spacecraft is firing on all cylinders as it makes its way toward its target, the metal-rich asteroid with the same name. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Psyche mission began eight weeks ago when it launched from the Kennedy Space Center. While it won’t reach its objective, the metal-rich asteroid Psyche, until 2029, the spacecraft has already travelled 26 million km (16 million miles.) During that time, it’s already had its share of success as it ticks off items on its checklist of tests.

Now, we have our first images from Psyche. And while they don’t show us anything about its eventual target, they give us a behind-the-scenes look at how complex spacecraft prepare themselves as they cruise toward their destinations.

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