New study traces dark near-Earth asteroids back to oddball asteroid family

Time-lapse view of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE spacecraft on May 17, 2010. WISE was later renamed to NEOWISE in 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Time-lapse view of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE spacecraft on May 17, 2010. WISE was later renamed to NEOWISE in 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Near-Earth asteroids, also known as Near Earth Objects (NEOs), are some of the best studied space rocks in the Solar System, primarily due to the fact that they approach the orbit of Earth, making them potentially dangerous to our home planet. Now, a new study has provided evidence that at least some of them, including dark ones which are more difficult to see, originate from the oddball Euphrosyne family of dark asteroids which are at the outer edge of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but have highly inclined orbits well above the plane or “equator” of the Solar System.

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Mystery gullies discovered on asteroid Vesta

Gullies in the crater Cornelia on Vesta. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA/MPS / DLR / IDA

The Dawn spacecraft left behind the giant asteroid Vesta last September, and is now en route to the even bigger dwarf planet Ceres, but scientists are still busy studying all of the data that was sent back to Earth while it was orbiting Vesta for over a year. And as often happens while exploring these new worlds, they have made a surprising discovery: long, sinuous gullies on the walls of geologically younger craters.

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Dawn spacecraft departs asteroid Vesta, next stop: Ceres

One of the last images of Vesta taken the Dawn spacecraft before it departed the asteroid to continue on to Ceres.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA/MPS / DLR / IDA / PSI

With all of the news lately about the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, it might be easy to forget about the other missions currently going on all over the solar system. That includes the asteroid belt, where the Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting and studying the giant asteroid Vesta since July of last year, sending back incredible photos and information about this unique world.

But now, Dawn has departed from Vesta to continue its mission elsewhere; on September 4, it escaped Vesta’s gravitational pull and is now headed for its next rendezvous – the dwarf planet Ceres. It is expected to arrive there in early 2015, the same year that the New Horizons spacecraft will finally reach Pluto.

See Examiner.com for the full article.

Hayabusa 2 mission approved by Japanese government

Artist's conception of Hayabusa 2 approaching the asteroid 1999 JU3. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita/JAXA

In 2010, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa completed an exciting although nail-biting mission to the asteroid Itokawa, successfully returning samples to Earth after first reaching the asteroid in 2005; the mission almost failed, with the spacecraft plagued by technical problems. The canister containing the microscopic rock samples made a soft landing in Australia, the first time that samples from an asteroid had been brought back to Earth for study.

Now, the Japanese government has approved a follow-up mission, Hayabusa 2. This time the probe is scheduled to be launched in 2014 and rendezvous with the asteroid known as 1999 JU3 in mid-2018. Samples would again be taken and returned to Earth in late 2020…

See Universe Today for the full article.

Mountain on asteroid Vesta is three times taller than Mt. Everest

Vesta, while one of the largest asteroids, is still a lot smaller than Earth, and yet it has a mountain that is three times taller than Mt. Everest, reaching about 22 kilometres (13 miles) in height. It sits inside the huge south polar crater, so is similar to many other craters on various planets and moons which have central peaks. It is surprising nonetheless to see such a large mountain on a relatively small body like Vesta, especially since it is so much higher than the tallest mountain on Earth!

Perspective view of south polar mountain on Vesta. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

The included image, taken by the orbiting Dawn spacecraft, shows a perspective view of the topography, but without the curvature of Vesta, as if you were looking at it standing on a flat Vesta instead of rounded. The resolution is about 300 metres (1,000 feet). The additional slideshow images show various views of the mountain. There is also a large steep-sloped scarp which bounds part of the south polar crater.

Overhead view of south polar mountain on Vesta. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI
Oblique view of south polar mountain on Vesta. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

There will be a news conference on Wednesday, October 12 at 10:00 a.m. PDT to discuss the latest results from Dawn, to be held at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, in Minneapolis. It can be watched live on the Geological Society of America web site and on Ustream, which includes a moderated chat.

This article was first published on Examiner.com.

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