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Radar imagery of asteroid Bennu with simulated craters and topography.

Simulated cratering and topography are overlaid on radar imagery of asteroid Bennu — one of the next asteroids to be visited up close by NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission. Click image for more information from University of Arizona News.

Asteroids Up Close

The importance of spacecraft missions in the quest to understand asteroids is highlighted in a recent review paper by Thomas Burbine (Mount Holyoke College, Massachusettes). Burbine discusses achievements in understanding the chemistries and mineralogies of asteroids since the launch of NASA's NEAR-Shoemaker robotic spacecraft in 1996, the first mission dedicated to asteroid exploration. As two new robotic asteroid-sample-return missions are underway (NASA's OSIRIS-REx and JAXA's Hayabusa2), Burbine's review paper and a review by Derek Sears earlier this year (see the January 2016 PSRD CosmoSparks: Comprehending Asteroids) provide timely recaps of why asteroids are so important to our understanding of the building blocks of our Solar System.

Burbine reviews these mission highlights: Interrogating asteroids from spacecraft flybys and orbits, returning samples from asteroid Itokawa, and the anticipated return of samples from two more asteroids all build on the achievements of Earth-based and Earth-orbiting telescopic spectroscopy and meteorite sample analyses. Through the stunning success of pairing remote sensing data with laboratory analyses of actual samples, meteorites and asteroid pieces collected in situ and returned to Earth, we are truly beginning to understand asteroids up close.

pdf link, Asteroids Up Close (pdf version)

See Reference:
·   Burbine, T. H. (2016) Advances in Determining Asteroid Chemistries and Mineralogies, Chemie der Erde, v. 76, p. 181-195, doi: 10.1016/j.chemer.2015.09.003. [ abstract ]

·   PSRD archive of asteroid articles.

·   JAXA's Hayabusa2 Mission.

·   NASA's OSIRIS-REx Mission.

Written by Linda M. V. Martel, Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, for PSRD.

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October 2016