Blogs about asteroids

The capsule containting asteroid Bennu's samples (Image NASA TV)

A little while ago, the samples taken from the asteroid Bennu brought back to Earth by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx space probe were collected by the American space agency’s crew in the area of their landing, at the Utah Test and Training Range. They will be transported to the Johnson Space Center, the first stage of a series of operations needed to process them while avoiding their contamination. In this study, NASA is collaborating with the Japanese space agency JAXA, which will receive some of the samples to compare them with those collected by its own Hayabusa 2 space probe on the asteroid Ryugu and returned to Earth in December 2020.

Ryugu, the Hayabusa 2 space probe and the molecules of uracil and vitamin B3

An article published in the journal “Nature Communications” reports the discovery of uracil, one of the bases of RNA, and niacin, i.e. vitamin B3, in the samples of asteroid Ryugu brought back to Earth by the Japanese Hayabusa 2 space probe. A team of researchers led by Yasuhiro Oba of Japan’s Hokkaido University developed an analytical technique to identify compounds in concentrations between parts per billion and parts per trillion to analyze just over 5 grams of samples.

The occultation light curve of the background star caused by the passage of asteroid Chariklo captured by the James Webb Space Telescope's Near-infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument

A stellar occultation that took place on October 18, 2022, made it possible to study asteroid Chariklo observing its rings as well, a truly peculiar feature for such a small object. A team of researchers used the James Webb Space Telescope to capture Chariklo’s passage in front of a star from Webb’s point of view. The NIRCam and NIRSpec instruments enabled images and spectrographic features of Chariklo to be obtained. In recent days, the NIRISS instrument had a software problem that blocked the transmission of the collected data but no hardware failures were found, therefore it’s possible that the data will be recovered later to complete an in-depth study of this asteroid.

Asteroid Dimorphos and the ejected materials seen by LICIACube (Image ASI/NASA/APL)

In a press conference, NASA confirmed the success of its DART mission after ascertaining that the orbit of asteroid Dimorphos was changed by the impact of the spacecraft. According to calculations, Dimorphos now orbits the asteroid Didymos in 11 hours and 23 minutes while before the impact, it took 11 hours and 55 minutes for each orbit. The margin of error is approximately 2 minutes, which indicates that the success is far greater than the minimum predicted. The monitoring will continue, especially by the LICIACube mini-probe, to obtain more precise data, also on the materials ejected after the impact, as their characteristics will help to understand the composition of Dimorphos.

The asteroid Dimorphos a few seconds before the impact (Image NASA TV)

Yesterday, NASA’s DART spacecraft crashed into Dimorphos, a small asteroid satellite of Didymos, a larger asteroid. These two asteroids are visible from Earth using instruments powerful enough, which will be used to monitor Dimorphos’ orbit and how much it was modified by the impact. Nearby is LICIACube, a CubeSat-class mini-probe equipped with two cameras that will provide much better observations than any telescope on Earth.