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Two asteroid missions get nod from NASA

11 January 2017 Stephen Clark

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

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NASA’s NEOWISE mission spies one comet, maybe two

30 December 2016 Stephen Clark

NASA’s NEOWISE mission has recently discovered some celestial objects traveling through our neighborhood, including one on the blurry line between asteroid and comet. Another — definitely a comet — might be seen with binoculars through next week.

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Hunt for water at Ceres goes underground

23 December 2016 Stephen Clark

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.

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A unique project to track two asteroids for Asteroid Day 2016

29 June 2016 Astronomy Now

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.

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How comets break up and make up

2 June 2016 Astronomy Now

For some comets, breaking up is not that hard to do. A new study indicates that the bodies of some periodic comets — objects that orbit the Sun in less than 200 years — may regularly split in two, then reunite down the road. This may be a repeating process fundamental to comet evolution.

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Asteroids identified as source of Moon’s water

1 June 2016 Astronomy Now

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.

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2007 OR10: the largest unnamed world in the solar system

12 May 2016 Astronomy Now

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.

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Solving the mystery of how Mars’ moon Phobos formed

1 March 2016 Astronomy Now

In late November and early December 2015, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission made a series of close approaches to the Martian moon Phobos. Among the data returned were spectral images of Phobos in the ultraviolet. The images will allow MAVEN scientists to better assess the composition of this enigmatic object, whose origin is unknown.

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Asteroids found to be the Moon’s main ‘water supply’

3 October 2015 Astronomy Now

Water reserves found on the Moon are the result of asteroids acting as “delivery vehicles” and not of falling comets as was previously thought. Using computer simulation, scientists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and the RAS Geosphere Dynamics Institute have discovered that a large asteroid can deliver more water to the lunar surface than the cumulative fall of comets over a billion year period.

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