(Image credit: NASA)
NASA has been a hotbed of discoveries over the last few months – new exoplanets, new Mars images, potential asteroid mining and more. Using the long defunct Kepler Space Telescope, NASA scientists have discovered a system of sweltering exoplanets located 4,670 light-years away and orbiting around a star that’s larger and hotter than our sun. Known as Kepler-385, the solar system is loaded with seven exoplanets, with each progressively hotter than the other and ranging in size from slightly larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.
According to NASA, Kepler-385 is bathed in the sun’s hellish thermal radiation that makes the average day on Venus look like a lovely spring day on Earth. The intense heat has stifled the exoplanets’ atmospheres, with some being paper-thin and others thick with gas like Jupiter. The latest data gathered from the Kepler Telescope will allow researchers to gain insight into how the same building blocks that formed our own Solar System can result in a place so hostile.
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft flyby of the Dinkinesh asteroid has unveiled an accompanying moon, revealing a binary system. (Image credit: NASA)
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has also made a fascinating discovery while flying by the Dinkinesh asteroid. Lucy was designed to gain insight into the formation of the solar system by examining the Trojan asteroids that formed our outer planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. To test the spacecraft, NASA flew the craft to its target, an asteroid named Dinkinesh, the Amharic word for marvelous. Marvelous indeed, as the flyby revealed that the lone asteroid is actually a binary system with a smaller body orbiting the larger.
In the weeks leading up to the celestial flyby, researchers wondered if the asteroid could be a binary pair due to its brightness changing over time. Preliminary analysis of the images shows that the larger body is approximately half a mile at its widest, while the smaller one is about 0.15 miles in size. “This is an awesome series of images. They indicate that the terminal tracking system worked as intended, even when the universe presented us with a more difficult target than we expected,” stated Tom Kennedy, guidance and navigation engineer at Lockheed Martin (Colorado). “It’s one thing to simulate, test, and practice. It’s another thing entirely to see it actually happen.”
It will take about a week to download the rest of the collected data, which NASA intends to use to evaluate the spacecraft’s behavior during the encounter and to prepare for the next close-up look at the Donaldjohanson asteroid slated to begin in 2025.
NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is designed to study a metal-rich asteroid of the same name located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. (Image credit: NASA)
NASA is also looking at other asteroids to gain insight into the primordial building blocks that created the solar system with its Psyche mission to investigate an asteroid with an incredible amount of metal content. All modern electronics we use today contain metals such as copper, platinum, cobalt and other rare earth metals to function. Those resources are finite here on Earth but could be abundant in celestial bodies such as asteroids, which has attracted the attention of mining companies.
The Psyche mission was launched in October of this year (2023) and is designed to study the composition and structure of an asteroid of the same name, which could tell scientists more about the Earth’s core, as the two objects could be comprised of similar material. It’s suspected that the asteroid is comprised of a number of metals, including those mentioned earlier. Mining companies are looking forward to the forthcoming data garnered by Psyche to evaluate if mining celestial bodies is a feasible endeavor. Designing equipment for mining operations and the logistics of transporting those materials hundreds of millions of miles would require a crazy amount of funding. Few companies have even begun to entertain the thought, but the collected data from the Psyche mission will help in that decision.
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