Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft prior to impact at the Didymos binary system (NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)
For centuries, asteroids have fascinated and puzzled astronomers. These rocky remnants from the early formation of our solar system hold a wealth of cosmic stories waiting to be unraveled.
Most of this space rubble can be found orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter within the main asteroid belt. But some asteroids orbit in other locations, including near-Earth space and in the vicinity of Jupiter’s orbit. Stray asteroids and asteroid fragments have slammed into Earth and the other planets (and continue to do so), playing a major role in altering the geological history of the planets and in the evolution of life on Earth.
Scientists classify asteroids based on their composition, such as carbonaceous, silicate, and metallic. Some contain valuable resources, including precious metals and water ice, sparking visionary ideas of asteroid mining.
How did they form? What processes sculpted their diverse composition? How have they influenced the development of our solar system? These questions continue to captivate scientists and drive ongoing research endeavors. Additionally, the threat posed by near-Earth asteroids remains a topic to explore.
Terik Daly, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s Planetary Impact Laboratory and member of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, dives into the complexities of these celestial bodies and how understanding them is vital to safeguarding our planet and preparing for future encounters.
The Grand Tour of the Solar System series treks to the Sun and the four inner terrestrial planets before traveling outward to the asteroid belt, four Jovian planets, and beyond. At each session, a professional astronomer explores a solar system body, presenting the latest research.
Following the talk and a question-and-answer period, Peter Plavchan, a professor of physics and astronomy at George Mason University, brings that night’s sky right into participants’ living rooms via remote control of the university observatory, weather permitting.
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