On course to collect specimens from asteroid Bennu after its launch last year, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will search this month for objects sharing an orbit with Earth, a bonus science opportunity to locate possible fragments of the primordial building blocks that formed our home planet. The long-range observations begin Feb. 9 and run through Feb. 20, using one of the probe’s cameras to look for asteroids embedded in swarms scientists believe lurk ahead of and behind Earth in its orbit around the Sun. Named Earth-Trojans, the objects likely group in clouds at Sun-Earth Lagrange points, where the combined pull of gravity from the bodies would allow asteroids to orbit in lock-step with Earth. The so-called L4 and L5 Lagrange points lead and follow Earth by 60 degrees in its path around the Sun. The same positions in front of and behind Jupiter harbour thousands of Trojan asteroids, and smaller Trojan swarms have been discovered near Venus, Mars, Uranus and Neptune. It turns out OSIRIS-REx is about to pass through the Sun-Earth L4 Lagrange point, and managers decided to scan the region where Earth-Trojans might be located to see what the spacecraft can find. Now located nearly 74 million miles (119
Decisions on the future of a joint robotic mission between NASA and the European Space Agency to demonstrate the ability to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth have been put off until later this year after European governments declined to fully fund their part of the project in December.
NASA has selected two robotic missions to visit asteroids in the early 2020s from a field of proposed interplanetary probes, approving projects to explore a metallic relic from the early solar system and a half-dozen so-called Trojan objects left over from the formation of the outer planets. The Lucy and Psyche spacecraft will join NASA’s line of cost-capped Discovery missions, a program under which the agency’s Mars Pathfinder rover, the Messenger mission to orbit Mercury, and the Dawn probe currently orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres were developed, built and launched. Picked from a slate of 28 proposals submitted to NASA in 2015, Lucy and Psyche will visit worlds never before seen close-up as scientists seek to sort out the violent early history of the solar system, in which proto-planets coalesced from mergers and collisions between rocks and boulders in a disk around the sun. Lucy will launch in October 2021 on a preliminary trajectory to escape the bonds of Earth’s gravity, then return for flybys to use the planet’s gravity to slingshot toward the mission’s targets in the asteroid belt and beyond. The probe’s first destination in April 2025 will be the asteroid DonaldJohanson, named for the paleoanthropologist who discovered
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has continued its survey of the dwarf planet Ceres this year, discovering rock-bound ice hidden just beneath the airless world’s rugged surface and a handful of icy outcrops inside craters in the northern hemisphere, raising hopes that Ceres could have once held a buried habitable ocean of liquid water.
Las Cumbres Observatory have partnered with Asteroid Day 2016 and Universe Awareness to create a website which allows you to use a global network of robotic telescopes to take pictures of two asteroids — 2002 KL6 and 2010 NY65 — currently passing close to Earth. On the website you can join the international campaign to study and raise awareness about asteroids.
According to a new international study, most (>80 percent) of the water inside the Moon was delivered by asteroids similar to carbonaceous chondritic meteorites during the early lunar evolution, approximately 4.5—4.3 billion years ago. A similar delivery of water to the Earth would have been occurring within this same interval of time.
By combining data from two space observatories, astronomers have revealed something surprising: a 955-mile-wide dwarf planet named 2007 OR10 is significantly larger than previously thought. Although its 547-year-long elliptical orbit brings it nearly as close to the Sun as Neptune, 2007 OR10 is currently twice as far from the Sun as Pluto.