Category Archives: Asteroids

Water on Asteroid Bennu?

A new look at asteroid Bennu from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft courtesy of: NASA, Goddard, and the University of Arizona. If you have not seen it there is a very good animated version of Bennu’s rotation, be warned if you have a slow connection, it is a large file; just be patient it is worth the wait. Video at asteroidmission.org.

The big news, really big news is there may be water in the clays on Bennu:

NASA: Recently analyzed data from NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has revealed water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.

During the mission’s approach phase, between mid-August and early December, the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) on its journey from Earth to arrive at a location 12 miles (19 km) from Bennu on Dec. 3. During this time, the science team on Earth aimed three of the spacecraft’s instruments towards Bennu and began making the mission’s first scientific observations of the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

Data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), reveal the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as “hydroxyls.” The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water. While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.

“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”

Additionally, data obtained from the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) corroborate ground-based telescopic observations of Bennu and confirm the original model developed in 2013 by OSIRIS-REx Science Team Chief Michael Nolan and collaborators. That model closely predicted the asteroid’s actual shape, with Bennu’s diameter, rotation rate, inclination, and overall shape presented almost exactly as projected.

One outlier from the predicted shape model is the size of the large boulder near Bennu’s south pole. The ground-based shape model calculated this boulder to be at least 33 feet (10 meters) in height. Preliminary calculations from OCAMS observations show that the boulder is closer to 164 feet (50 meters) in height, with a width of approximately 180 feet (55 meters).

Bennu’s surface material is a mix of very rocky, boulder-filled regions and a few relatively smooth regions that lack boulders. However, the quantity of boulders on the surface is higher than expected. The team will make further observations at closer ranges to more accurately assess where a sample can be taken on Bennu to later be returned to Earth.
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Strange Object on Bennu?


Have a look in the southern area and left of center in this remarkable image of the asteroid Bennu from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft (click the image for a larger version). Sure looks like “something”, but what? At first glance it almost doesn’t seem to fit, like it is foreign and probably the conspiracy theorists are jumping to conclusions we will be hearing shortly.

Why not?  The object appears to be in the order of what, 30 meters across or so?  Well we can hopefully rule out anything “unnatural”. If you take a look at the GIF made on 02 November from 197 km / 122 miles, this appears to be a very interesting geological feature; I will be glad to hear NASA’s idea’s on how this formed.

Images:  NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA: nASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft completed its 1.2 billion-mile (2 billion-kilometer) journey to arrive at the asteroid Bennu Monday. The spacecraft executed a maneuver that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid.

Now, at about 11.8 miles (19 kilometers) from Bennu’s Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid. The spacecraft will commence flyovers of Bennu’s north pole, equatorial region, and south pole, getting as close as nearly 4 miles (7 kilometers) above Bennu during each flyover.

The primary science goals of this survey are to refine estimates of Bennu’s mass and spin rate, and to generate a more precise model of its shape. The data will help determine potential sites for later sample collection.

OSIRIS-REx’s mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. Asteroids are remnants of the building blocks that formed the planets and enabled life. Those like Bennu contain natural resources, such as water, organics and metals. Future space exploration and economic development may rely on asteroids for these materials.

“As explorers, we at NASA have never shied away from the most extreme challenges in the solar system in our quest for knowledge,” said Lori Glaze, acting director for NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Now we’re at it again, working with our partners in the U.S. and Canada to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing back to Earth a piece of the early solar system.”
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Asteroid Ryugu

Wow, what a great look at asteroid Ryugu. If you would like to see a (much) larger version you can, thanks to and credit to DLR via ESA just click here for the hi-resolution version at ESA (193K) very much worth the click.

HAYABUSA 2 is proving to be an excellent adventure to an asteroid and back.

Original press release with links:

Asteroid Ryugu, an ancient space rock roughly 300 million km from Earth, is now home to three Earth-born inhabitants bouncing across its bouldery surface. In the early morning of 3 October 2018, the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) gently fell to the asteroid’s surface, joining its Japanese siblings, the MINERVA-II rovers1-A and 1-B.

This remarkable image was taken during MASCOT’s descent, 3.5 minutes after separation from its parentship and 20 metres from its final resting place. At the top right, MASCOT’s fuzzy shadow can be seen, standing out next to the sharp detail of Ryugu’s puckered surface.

Developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in cooperation with the French space agency CNES, MASCOT was originally thought to have enough power to explore the mile-long rock for just 12 hours. However, the adventurous box delighted its team when it inspected Ryugu’s surface for more than 17 hours, making an extra bounce and sending all the data collected back to the mothership, Hayabusa2.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft left Earth in December 2014, carrying four small rovers designed to investigate Ryugu’s surface. Each fell freely to the surface under the asteroid’s weak gravity, bouncing on arrival and immediately collecting data on their strange new world.

The spacecraft is expected to return 3 samples to Earth in December 2020 from varying parts of the ancient asteroid. With these specimens, scientists on Earth hope to learn about the composition of carbonaceous asteroids like Ryugu — a type of space rock expected to preserve some of the most pristine materials in the Solar System.

This class of asteroid also has members who at times come too close to Earth for comfort, near-Earth objects (NEOs). It is hoped that Hayabusa’s incredible mission will shed light on these marauding masses which could come in handy if we one day need to defend ourselves from them.

Undoubtedly, Hayabusa’s insights into this giant pile of space rubble will prove useful to the teams involved in ESA’s ambitious proposed mission to test asteroid deflection, Hera — in particular, understanding the low gravity environment of these unique solar system bodies.

NASA’s Asteroid Encounter

NASA’s Osiris-REx is basically “on approach” to asteroid Bennu, and so far everything seems to proceeding nicely.

NASA — NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed its first Asteroid Approach Maneuver (AAM-1) today putting it on course for its scheduled arrival at the asteroid Bennu in December. The spacecraft’s main engine thrusters fired in a braking maneuver designed to slow the spacecraft’s speed relative to Bennu from approximately 1,100 mph (491 m/sec) to 313 mph (140 m/sec). The mission team will continue to examine telemetry and tracking data as they become available and will have more information on the results of the maneuver over the next week.

During the next six weeks, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will continue executing the series of asteroid approach maneuvers designed to fly the spacecraft through a precise corridor during its final slow approach to Bennu. The last of these, AAM-4, scheduled for Nov. 12, will adjust the spacecraft’s trajectory to arrive at a position 12 miles (20 km) from Bennu on Dec. 3. After arrival, the spacecraft will initiate asteroid proximity operations by performing a series of fly-bys over Bennu’s poles and equator

Credits: University of Arizona

A Bit of Asteroid Itokawa

Along with the likes of the Cassini and Rosetta missions we have the history making Hayabusa Mission. The mission actually returned a sample from the asteroid Itokawa and the mission at least for me showcases the resilience of the JAXA mission team (see the section “Changes in mission plan” in the provided link.

The image above was released yesterday 01 Aug 2018 by ESA.

Here’s the caption included in the release:

ESA: Seen on a microscopic support, this sharp-edged grain of rock is an extraterrestrial object – a tiny sample from the Itokawa asteroid, retrieved by Japan’s Hayabusa mission and now being tested by ESA researchers.

Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft was the world’s first mission to retrieve samples from the surface of an asteroid and return them to Earth. Beset by many problems, after a seven-year, six-billion-km odyssey Hayabusa returned around 1 500 precious asteroid grains to Earth.

Extremely precious, these Hayabusa grains have become the focus of scientific study around the world – and three of them are currently here, at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands.

Researcher Fabrice Cipriani is leading research into their static charging properties, to understand the consequences for the surface environments of asteroids.

Hera Mission

What happens when we impact an asteroid, other than the obvious crater and debris, can we actually change its trajectory? The Hera mission is designed to find out by impacting “Didymoon” as the video explains. Didymoon is part of the Didymos system.

By the way if the name Didymos is familiar, you may be thinking of of the didymo we see here on Earth.