Visit Space Rocks to Find Clues About The Asteroid Belt Formation – Now. Powered by Northrop Grumman

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Did you spend Asteroid Day this year (June 30) wondering about the formation of the asteroid belt? Or watch “Armageddon”, wondering how realistic the scenes of space rocks bouncing off the surface of an asteroid were? Even if you haven’t, asteroids are hard to avoid today. On June 27, Japan’s JAXA space agency reported that its probe had safely arrived on asteroid 162173 Ryugu in the asteroid belt. JAXA plans to land the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, collect samples and return to Earth in December 2020.

So other than suspenseful scriptwriting and potential doomsday scenarios, why is there so much interest in these space discoveries?

Where is the asteroid belt?

The asteroid belt formed in the early days of our solar system and lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is home to billions if not billions of objects, some the size of boulders, others several thousand feet in diameter or more. Space.com describes them as loose, irregular rubble; only the larger asteroids like Ceres, which is also classified as a dwarf planet, are close to being spherical.

What caused the asteroid belt to form?

According to Space.com, astronomers believe asteroids have remained since the start of the solar system. The remnants of the protoplanetary disk of dust and rock circling the sun after planetary formation have gathered between Mars and Jupiter. The collisions brought some closer together and destroyed others, scattering the debris. Jupiter’s massive gravitational pull prevented the formation of larger planets.

The supporting evidence comes from other space discoveries; a dust belt surrounding young star Zeta Leporis as her new solar system develops suggests that this is how our own asteroid belt formed, Space.com said.

Another theory proposes that asteroids are the result of planetary destruction, according to Space.com. NASA disagrees, pointing out that the combined weight of asteroids in the belt is much less than our own moon – not enough to form an entire planet.

A new theory suggests that the formation of the asteroid belt happened because of planets dumping debris into empty space. Phys.org reports that asteroid-like radial segregation indicates them coming from neighboring planets. The researchers ran simulations to investigate their claim. They showed that the asteroid belt could indeed be a construction dumping ground, full of leftover planetary construction material.

Why visit Space Rocks?

Without proof, it is difficult to support a theory. Hayabusa2 could help bring back materials and data to explore. The spacecraft will circle Ryugu, scanning the asteroid’s surface with sensors to record surface temperature and mineral distribution. Hovering at medium altitude allows for closer viewing, as shown in images from the the expedition’s Twitter feed.

A planned landing on the Ryugu surface this year then deploys landers and surface rovers to map, dig and collect samples of the asteroid. Hayabusa2 will take off with the samples in December 2019 for the return trip to Earth.

Asteroid dust holds the secrets of the solar system

Studying the makeup of Ryugu’s samples could tell us not only how asteroids formed, but also give clues to how our solar system started. A composition similar to that of other planets, for example, could support the theory that planetary debris formed the asteroid belt.

This research could also help in the development of resources; asteroids are loaded with minerals and metals that are useful to us here on Earth. Currently, Asterank, a scientific and economic database of more than 600,000 asteroids, values ​​Ryugu at US $ 82.76 billion, with projected profits of around $ 30 billion. Confirming the exact composition from samples would give a more accurate assessment and help identify asteroids worthy of mining.

Rich in metals like platinum and palladium, asteroid mining could be the “gold rush” of the future.



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