Asteroids Crashing Into Dead Stars are Helping Explain Where the Universe’s Missing Lithium Went

What happened to all the lithium? The question has stumped astronomers for decades. While cosmologists have successfully predicted the abundance of the other light elements from the Big Bang, lithium has always come up short. Now, a team of astronomers may have found the reason: lithium-rich asteroids are smashing into white dwarves.

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Japan’s Hayabusa 2 Probe Drops Off Bits of an Asteroid and Heads for Its Next Target

Hayabusa 2 artwork

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe zoomed past Earth on December 5th and dropped off a capsule containing bits of an asteroid, finishing a six-year round trip.

But the mission is far from over: While Hayabusa 2’s parachute-equipped sample capsule descended to the Australian Outback, its mothership set a new course for an encounter with yet another asteroid in 2031.

Hayabusa 2’s prime objective was to deliver bits of Ryugu, an asteroid that’s currently 11.6 million kilometers from Earth. Mission controllers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, cheered and laughed when word came that the capsule had survived atmospheric re-entry.

Imagery captured by tracking cameras — and from the International Space Station — showed the capsule streaking like a fireball across the sky as it decelerated from an initial speed of 43,000 kilometers per hour.

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There Might Be Water On All Rocky Planets

Artist’s impression of a massive asteroid belt in orbit around a star. Earth's water may not have all come from asteroids and comets, so maybe that's true for exoplanets. Credit: NASA-JPL / Caltech / T. Pyle (SSC)

If you asked someone who was reasonably scientifically literate how Earth got its water, they’d likely tell you it came from asteroids—or maybe comets and planetesimals, too—that crashed into our planet in its early days. There’s detail, nuance, and uncertainty around that idea, but it’s widely believed to be the most likely reason that Earth has so much water.

But a new explanation for Earth’s water is emerging. It says that the water comes along for the ride when Earth formed out of the solar nebula.

If that’s correct, it means that most rocky planets might have water for at least a portion of their lives.

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New Scans Give us a Better View of the Metal Asteroid Psyche

In 2022, NASA will launch a spacecraft to asteroid Psyche (16 Psyche), one of the largest in the asteroid belt, and the only known asteroid to be composed almost entirely of metals like iron and nickel.

Now, scientists have taken a new look at Psyche using the Hubble Space Telescope, conducting the first ultraviolet observations of this asteroid since the 1980s. Hubble has provided new insights into Psyche’s surface and composition, as well as possible activity taking place on Psyche’s surface.

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Success! OSIRIS-REx Touches Asteroid Bennu to Collect Samples

Out in the asteroid belt, 207 million miles (334 million km) from Earth, a little spacecraft briefly touched down on the surface of Asteroid Bennu today, attempting to collect samples of dust and rocks.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) spent about 10 seconds on the ancient asteroid to collect samples, slated to come back to Earth in 2023.  While mission scientists and engineers need to confirm that samples from the asteroid were collected, preliminary data show that every step of the procedure went as planned.

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Hayabusa2’s Mission isn’t Over. It has a New Asteroid Target to Visit: 1998 KY26

In an expected move, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced a mission extension for their Hayabusa2 spacecraft. Hayabusa2 will be sent to rendezvous with another asteroid in a few years time.

It’s target is 1998 KY26, a near-Earth object (NEO) less than a kilometer in diameter. But it’ll take a while and some maneuvering around other objects in the Solar System to reach its goal. JAXA says the spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid in July 2031.

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Astronomers Have Discovered a 2-km Asteroid Orbiting Closer to the Sun than Venus

NEO asteroid

Astronomers have painstakingly built models of the asteroid population, and those models predict that there will be ~1 km sized asteroids that orbit closer to the Sun than Venus does. The problem is, nobody’s been able to find one. Until now.

Astronomers working with the Zwicky Transient Facility say they’ve finally found one. But this one’s bigger, at about 2 km. If its existence can be confirmed, then asteroid population models may have to be updated.

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There are Three Asteroids Hiding in this Animation, See If You Can Find Them

This summer, the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC) started posting “riddles” or challenges on their website. These riddles provide a look at how difficult it is for astronomers to find faint, near Earth objects (NEO). Try it for yourself by looking at the animation below:

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