Asteroids to shed light on the composition of outer solar system objects

Asteroids to shed light on the composition of outer solar system objects

Asteroids to shed light on the composition of outer solar system objects https://asteroidday-uploads.s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/24200426/news.jpeg 512 512 Asteroid Day Asteroid Day https://asteroidday-uploads.s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/24200426/news.jpeg

Artist’s graphic of the asteroid belt, part of Dawn’s Mission Art series. Credit: NASA/McREL

More and more asteroid missions are launched by scientists and commercial companies with the aim to collect samples to better understand them, possibly mine them or merely analyse their composition. A future United Arab Emirates (UAE) mission visiting seven different asteroids in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is planning to do just this.

The mission seeks to research the origin and evolution of water-rich asteroids, as well as explore their potential as resource depots. The solar-electric propulsion system powered spacecraft will perform high-speed encounters with six main belt asteroids:

  • The merely 2.3-kilometre-diameter asteroid 10253 Westerwald was discovered in 1973 by Dutch astronomer, Cornelis Johannes van Houten and his wife, Ingrid van Houten-Groeneveld. The celestial object was named after Westerwald, a volcanic low mountain range north of the Lahn river in Germany.
  • The 44-kilometre-diameter 623 Chimaera was discovered in 1907 by K. Lohnert in Heidelberg.
  • 13294 Rockox was discovered in 1998 by Eric Walter Elst at the European Southern Observatory. The 5.2-kilometre-diameter asteroid was named after humanist and maecenas, Nicolaas Rockox of Antwerp.
  • Asteroid 88055 has a diameter of 5.4 km and was discovered in the year 2000 as part of the LINEAR (Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research) project.
  • The 6.7-kilometre-diameter asteroid 23871 was discovered in 1998 by LINEAR.
  • Asteroid 59980 has a diameter of 7.9 km and was discovered in 1999 by LINEAR at Socorro, New Mexico.

The spacecraft will then rendezvous with the 50.7-kilometre-diameter 269 Justitia, discovered by Austrian astronomer, Johann Palisa in 1887, to characterise the surface composition, geology, and gravity field of the asteroid. The largest asteroid in size among the seven to be visited by the UAE’s probe, has a reddish hue, most likely due to the presence of organic compounds (tholins) on its surface.

Tholins are abundant on the dwarf planet Pluto as well as other icy bodies in our outer solar system. According to scientists, it is likely that 269 Justitia formed beyond Neptune and so it could provide information on the composition of celestial objects beyond the gas giant.

If everything goes to plan, the first asteroid flyby will occur in 2030 followed by five more flybys and eventually a rendezvous with 269 Justitia in April 2034.

Learn more about asteroids:
Were the first asteroids discovered by chance?
LEARN-Why aren’t asteroids round?