Onboard the Nasa asteroid probes unlocking secrets, dangers of our solar system

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Thailand’s space institute offered a close encounter with some of the most mysterious –and dangerous – objects in the universe on Friday.

Onboard the Nasa asteroid probes unlocking secrets, dangers of our solar system

The National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT) unveiled the secrets of asteroids through the lens – and mechanical arms – of Nasa probes currently hurtling through space. It said the spacecraft are used to study asteroids because they afford close-up encounters that are not possible with Earth-bound telescopes.

NARIT explained that asteroids are small rocky objects that orbit the Sun.

Most of them swirl around in the asteroid belt, a debris-filled region of space between Mars and Jupiter. The largest is Ceres, a dwarf planet about 950 kilometres in diameter.

The main reason for studying asteroids is to tap the secrets they hold as scraps that form planets – including our own. Asteroids may be the source of water and organic compounds that first sparked life on Earth 3.5 billion years ago. They could be a crucial resource for humanity in the future.

But they also present a potential catastrophic danger to Earth, as the dinosaurs found out when an asteroid 10 kilometres in diameter slammed into the planet 66 million years ago.

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NARIT trained its lens on four Nasa missions that are unlocking the mystery of this ancient space rubble left over from the formation of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.

Its mission is to collect a sample of soil or rubble from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. One of Nasa’s first asteroid missions, the OSIRIS-Rex was launched on September 9, 2016. The probe touched down on Bennu on October 20, 2020 and successfully scooped up the sample. It is now hurtling back to Earth with a scheduled landing date of September 24, 2023.

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)
Its objective is to test a planetary defence system against asteroids. Launched on November 24, 2021, the probe will crash into the asteroid Dimorphos in a bid to deflect the 160-metre-diameter space rock off its course. The impact is scheduled for September 26, 2022.

Its mission is to explore the main asteroid belt and seven Jupiter trojan asteroids to analyse their colour, surface, mass and physical features. The probe was launched on October 16, 2021 and will spend 12 years in space.

Scheduled to blast off later this year, this mission will study the asteroid “16 Psyche” which orbits between Mars and Jupiter. 16 Psyche is a metal-rich asteroid composed of iron and nickel that is thought to hold clues to planet formation in the beginning phase. Psyche is set to launch on August 1, 2022 and reach 16 Psyche on January 31, 2026.

Published : January 15, 2022


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