Watch OSIRIS-REx's Complex Orbital Path Around Bennu in This Cool Animation

OSIRIS-REx mission timeline. Credit: NASA.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft conducted a two-year reconnaissance and sample collection at the asteroid Bennu, providing crucial data about the 500-meter-wide potentially hazardous rubble pile/space rock. When OSIRIS-REx arrived on Dec. 3, 2018, it needed some tricky navigation and precise maneuvers to make the mission work.

Experts at NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio created an amazing visualization of the path the spacecraft took during its investigations. A short film called “A Web Around Asteroid Bennu” highlights the complexity of the mission, and the film is being shown at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, a festival honoring standout works of computer animated storytelling.

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OSIRIS-REx Would Have Sunk Deep into Asteroid Bennu if it Tried to Land

A pair of studies published in Science and Science Advances have helped identify that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) spacecraft would have sunk into the asteroid Bennu had the spacecraft not fired its thrusters immediately after collecting samples from the surface of the small planetary body in October 2020. The respective studies examined the loosely packed exterior of Bennu, comparing its surface to stepping into a pit of plastic balls that people of all ages enjoy. The paper in Science was led by Dr. David Lauretta, Principal Investigator of OSIRIS-REx and a Regents Professor at the University of Arizona, and the paper in Science Advances was led by Dr. David Walsh, a member of the OSIRIS-REx team from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

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We’ll be Building Self-Replicating Probes to Explore the Milky Way Sooner Than you Think. Why Haven’t ETIs?

An early NASA concept of an interstellar space probe. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

The future can arrive in sudden bursts. What seems a long way off can suddenly jump into view, especially when technology is involved. That might be true of self-replicating machines. Will we combine 3D printing with in-situ resource utilization to build self-replicating space probes?

One aerospace engineer with expertise in space robotics thinks it could happen sooner rather than later. And that has implications for SETI.

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The Most Threatening Asteroid Just got Downgraded to “Harmless”. No Impact in 2052

It’s comforting to know that there are people who are literally paid to watch the night sky to ensure that at least we’ll be informed if an asteroid will hit the Earth. Technology and near-Earth surveys have become advanced enough that the likelihood of a planet-killer-sized asteroid coming out of nowhere, as is so prevalent in modern media depictions, is extremely unlikely. Even smaller ones, which would only wipe out a city or part of a continent, get enough attention to tell if they pose a threat or not. And in advance of Asteroid Day 2022, which happened on June 30th, ESA is proud to announce they were able to remove one of the most threatening asteroids from their potential impact list.

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This is What the Metal Asteroid Psyche Might Look Like

Asteroid Psyche's varied surface suggests a dynamic history, which could include metallic eruptions, asteroid-shaking impacts, and a lost rocky mantle. Image Credit: Screenshot courtesy of NASA

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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China is Building an Asteroid Deflection Mission of its own, due for Launch in 2025

There’s an old joke that the dinosaurs are only extinct because they didn’t develop a space agency. The implication, of course, is that unlike our reptilian ancestors, we humans might be able to save ourselves from an impending asteroid strike on Earth, given our six-and-a-half decades of spaceflight experience. But the fact is that while we have achieved amazing things since Sputnik kicked off the space age in 1957, very little effort thus far has gone into developing asteroid deflection technologies. We are woefully inexperienced in this arena, and aside from our Hollywood dramatizations of it, we’ve never yet put our capabilities to the test. But that’s about to change.

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Asteroid Ryugu Might Actually Be a Dead Comet

egion of the highest resolution image. Yellow boxes correspond to the region in Figure 1. (Left) The region is shown on the ONC-T global image of Ryugu. (Right) ONC-W1 image, taken at 70 m height. 2018-09-21 13:02(JST). Credit: JAXA

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

Artist's impression of the asteroid belt. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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

2022 EB5 captured by Paolo Bacci and Martina Maestripieri from at 21h 10min UT, which is 12 minutes before it entered the atmosphere, while it was only 12 300 km form Earth and its apparent speed close to 65?/sec. Credit: P. Bacci, M. Maestripieri

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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We don’t Know Exactly When the Dinosaurs Died, but Now We Know it was in the Springtime

Melanie During excavating a paddlefish in the Tanis deposit. Credit: Jackson Leibach, via Nature.

We’ve long known a disaster took place about 66 million years ago, where in a geological instant, 75% of the plants and animals on Earth were wiped out, including all the land-roaming dinosaurs. But here’s a new detail about that event: Even though we can’t pinpoint exactly what year this disaster took place, we now know it happened during the springtime.

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