Tag Archives: asteroid

Osiris-Rex and Bennu

Osiris-Rex_Bennu

You might be mistaken for thinking Osiris-Rex and Bennu are the names of two rather exotic dogs. No.

Bennu is a 1,500 foot wide space rock, which circles the Sun at around 60,000 mph. OSIRIS-REx is the space probe which aims to catch the near-Earth asteroid in 2018 and return samples back to Earth in 2023. NASA is scheduled to launch OSIRIS-REx from aboard an Atlas V rocket on September 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Follow NASA’s asteroid mission here.

In case you were wondering, as is NASA’s wont, OSIRIS-REx is of course a convoluted acronym for the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer spacecraft.

From the Guardian:

At Cape Canaveral air force station on the Florida coast stands an Atlas V rocket bearing the Osiris-Rex probe, Nasa’s first hope to smash-and-grab material from a speeding asteroid and bring it safely back to Earth.

The size of a transit van, the two-tonne spacecraft is set to blast off Thursday night on a seven-year mission to a 500m-wide ball of rubble called Bennu, which circles the sun at more than 100,000km per hour.

The probe is the third of Nasa’s ambitious New Frontiers missions. It follows on the heels of the New Horizons spacecraft, which last year beamed home stunning images from Pluto, and the Juno spacecraft, which arrived at Jupiter in July.

In returning a pile of asteroid to Earth, scientists hope to learn more about the source of water in the solar system and the origins of organic molecules from which life first arose. But getting their hands on pristine asteroid will also give researchers fresh clues about how to mine the bodies for valuable materials, and defend against wayward space rocks that may one day threaten our planet.

The mission has a title that is unwieldy even for the US space agency. Osiris-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer. “It is a mouthful,” said Ed Beshore, deputy principal investigator on the mission at Arizona State University. “But the name really does speak to our principal mission objectives.”

Bennu orbits the sun on a similar path to Earth. Classified as a “potentially hazardous asteroid”, it swings close to the Earth – in cosmic terms, at least – once every six years. The nearest encounter scientists can predict is slated for 2135, when the coal-black space rock will hurtle between Earth and the moon at a distance of 300,000km.

One major question the mission will ask is how sunlight affects the orbits of asteroids. As they spin close to the sun asteroids are constantly heating up and cooling down. The heat the asteroid re-emits to space provides a minuscule thrust which over time can alter its course. But the effect is hard to quantify. “Often when we look at asteroids that may be a hazard to Earth, the limiting factor in predicting the orbit is this process called the Yarkovsky effect,” said Beshore. “We’d like to understand that and measure it much more precisely when we’re at Bennu and in doing so improve our predictive accuracy for other asteroids that may represent a future threat to Earth.”

Osiris-Rex aims to catch up with Bennu in August 2018 and spend two years mapping the surface. When mission scientists find a good spot, it will swoop down, blast the asteroid with a powerful jet of nitrogen, and collect dislodged material with a robotic arm. Once the material is safely aboard, the spacecraft will retreat and later send it home in a capsule due to land via parachute in the Utah desert in 2023.

Read the whole story here.

Image: Artist concept of OSIRIS-REx probe traveling to near-Earth asteroid Bennu on a sample return mission. Courtesy: NASA.

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Asteroid 5099

Iain (M.) Banks is now where he rightfully belongs — hurtling through space. Though, we fear that he may well not be traveling as fast as he would have wished.

From the Minor Planet Center:

In early April of this year we learnt from Iain Banks himself that he was sick, very sick. Cancer that started in the gall bladder spread quickly and precluded any cure, though he still hoped to be around for a while and see his upcoming novel, The Quarry, hit store shelves in late June. He never did—Iain Banks died on June 9th.

I was introduced to Iain M. Banks’s Sci-Fi novels in graduate school by a good friend who also enjoyed Sci-Fi; he couldn’t believe I’d never even heard of him and remedied what he saw as a huge lapse in my Sci-Fi culture by lending me a couple of his novels. After that I read a few more novels of my own volition because Mr Banks truly was a gifted story teller.

When I heard of his sickness I immediately asked myself what I could do for Mr Banks, and the answer was obvious: Give him an asteroid!

The Minor Planet Center only has the authority to designate new asteroid discoveries (e.g., ’1971 TD1?) and assign numbers to those whose orbits are of a high enough accuracy (e.g., ’5099?), but names for numbered asteroids must be submitted to, and approved by, the Committee for Small Body Nomenclature (CSBN) of the IAU (International Astronomical Union). With the help of Dr Gareth Williams, the MPC’s representative on the CSBN, we submitted a request to name an asteroid after Iain Banks with the hope that it would be approved soon enough for Mr Banks to enjoy it. Sadly, that has not been possible. Nevertheless, I am here to announce that on June 23rd, 2013, asteroid (5099) was officially named Iainbanks by the IAU, and will be referred to as such for as long as Earth Culture may endure.

The official citation for the asteroid reads:

Iain M. Banks (1954-2013) was a Scottish writer best known for the Culture series of science ?ction novels; he also wrote ?ction as Iain Banks. An evangelical atheist and lover of whisky, he scorned social media and enjoyed writing music. He was an extra in Monty Python & The Holy Grail.

Asteroid Iainbanks resides in the Main Asteroid Belt of the Sol system; with a size of 6.1 km (3.8 miles), it takes 3.94 years to complete a revolution around the Sun. It is most likely of a stony composition. Here is an interactive 3D orbit diagram.

The Culture is an advanced society in whose midst most of Mr Banks’s Sci-Fi novels take place. Thanks to their technology they are able to hollow out asteroids and use them as ships capable of faster-than-light travel while providing a living habitat with centrifugally-generated gravity for their thousands of denizens. I’d like to think Mr Banks would have been amused to have his own rock.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Orbit Diagram of asteroid (5099) Iainbanks. Cyan ellipses represent the orbits of the planets (from closer to further from the Sun) Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter. The black ellipse represents the orbit of asteroid Iainbanks. The shaded region lies below the ecliptic plane, the non shaded, above. Courtesy of Minor Planet Center.

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Next Potential Apocalypse: 2036

Having missed the recent apocalypse said to have been predicted by the Mayans, the next possible end of the world is set for 2036. This time it’s courtesy of aptly named asteroid – Apophis.

From the Guardian:

In Egyptian myth, Apophis was the ancient spirit of evil and destruction, a demon that was determined to plunge the world into eternal darkness.

A fitting name, astronomers reasoned, for a menace now hurtling towards Earth from outerspace. Scientists are monitoring the progress of a 390-metre wide asteroid discovered last year that is potentially on a collision course with the planet, and are imploring governments to decide on a strategy for dealing with it.

Nasa has estimated that an impact from Apophis, which has an outside chance of hitting the Earth in 2036, would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole of the Earth would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere.

And, scientists insist, there is actually very little time left to decide. At a recent meeting of experts in near-Earth objects (NEOs) in London, scientists said it could take decades to design, test and build the required technology to deflect the asteroid. Monica Grady, an expert in meteorites at the Open University, said: “It’s a question of when, not if, a near Earth object collides with Earth. Many of the smaller objects break up when they reach the Earth’s atmosphere and have no impact. However, a NEO larger than 1km [wide] will collide with Earth every few hundred thousand years and a NEO larger than 6km, which could cause mass extinction, will collide with Earth every hundred million years. We are overdue for a big one.”

Apophis had been intermittently tracked since its discovery in June last year but, in December, it started causing serious concern. Projecting the orbit of the asteroid into the future, astronomers had calculated that the odds of it hitting the Earth in 2029 were alarming. As more observations came in, the odds got higher.

Having more than 20 years warning of potential impact might seem plenty of time. But, at last week’s meeting, Andrea Carusi, president of the Spaceguard Foundation, said that the time for governments to make decisions on what to do was now, to give scientists time to prepare mitigation missions. At the peak of concern, Apophis asteroid was placed at four out of 10 on the Torino scale – a measure of the threat posed by an NEO where 10 is a certain collision which could cause a global catastrophe. This was the highest of any asteroid in recorded history and it had a 1 in 37 chance of hitting the Earth. The threat of a collision in 2029 was eventually ruled out at the end of last year

Read the entire article after the jump.

Graphic: This graphic shows the orbit of the asteroid Apophis in relation to the paths of Earth and other planets in the inner solar system. Courtesy of MSNBC.

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Dawn Over Vesta

More precisely NASA’s Dawn spacecraft entered into orbit around the asteroid Vesta on July 15, 2011. Vesta is the second largest of our solar system’s asteroids and is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Now that Dawn is safely in orbit, the spacecraft will circle about 10,000 miles above Vesta’s surface for a year and use two different cameras, a gamma-ray detector and a neutron detector, to study the asteroid.

Then in July 2012, Dawn will depart for a visit to Vesta’s close neighbor and largest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres.

The image of Vesta above was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles (15,000 kilometers) away.

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

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