Dealing with Potentially Hazardous Asteroids

A trio of asteroid stories: OSIRIS-REx’s sample of Bennu on schedule to return; researchers develop method to map asteroid density distribution; and 3200 Phaethon’s rotation speeds up.

Beth Johnson

--

Science can be a long game, especially when dealing with space science. Distances are astronomical; scales are measured in millions and billions. And while our asteroid belt isn’t far away, astronomically speaking, researchers have had to do a lot of waiting — waiting for missions to be designed, approved, launched, arrive, and sometimes even take samples.

Today, we look at three stories about asteroid science that require patience, new methods, and even new spacecraft.

IMAGE: This image from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft show material leaking out of its sampling collector after a successful gathering of rock and soil from the asteroid Bennu. CREDIT: NASA

First up, and probably most relevant to our community, NASA announced that the OSIRIS-REx sample of Bennu is on course to arrive at Earth on September 23, 2023. The delivery is not a foregone event, however, as the approach must be at a precise speed and direction. Deputy project manager Mike Moreau explains: If the capsule is angled too high, it will skip off the atmosphere. Angled too low, it will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

The spacecraft has already performed one course correction to stay on track for safe delivery…

--

--

Beth Johnson

Planetary scientist, podcast host. Communication specialist for SETI Institute and Planetary Science Institute. Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/planetarypan