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Clue to the History of Solar System? NASA Selects 2 Missions to explore mysterious solar system’s Asteroids

NASA aims to dig deep into the study of the history the universe

NASA space shuttle, Pixabay

Washington, Jan 5, 2017: Aiming to find important clues to the earliest history of the solar system, NASA has announced two missions — one to explore Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids and the other to study a unique metal asteroid.

The missions, known as Lucy and Psyche, were chosen from five finalists and will proceed to mission formulation, with the goal of launching in 2021 and 2023, respectively, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

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“Lucy will visit a target-rich environment of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids, while Psyche will study a unique metal asteroid that’s never been visited before,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“This is what Discovery Program missions are all about – boldly going to places we’ve never been to enable groundbreaking science,” Zurbuchen added.

Lucy, a robotic spacecraft, is scheduled for October 2021 launch. It is slated to arrive at its first destination, a main belt asteroid, in 2025.

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From 2027 to 2033, Lucy will explore six Jupiter Trojan asteroids.
These asteroids are trapped by Jupiter’s gravity in two swarms that share the planet’s orbit, one leading and one trailing Jupiter in its 12-year circuit around the sun.

The Trojans are thought to be relics of a much earlier era in the history of the solar system, and may have formed far beyond Jupiter’s current orbit.

“This is a unique opportunity,” said Harold Levison, Principal Investigator of the Lucy mission from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

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“Because the Trojans are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets, they hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins,” Levison noted.

The Psyche mission will explore one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt – a giant metal asteroid, known as 16 Psyche, about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth.

This asteroid measures about 130 miles (210 kilometers) in diameter and, unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, is thought to be comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel, similar to Earth’s core.

The mission will help scientists understand how planets and other bodies separated into their layers – including cores, mantles and crusts – early in their histories.

Psyche, also a robotic mission, is targeted to launch in October of 2023, arriving at the asteroid in 2030, following an Earth gravity assist spacecraft maneuvre in 2024 and a Mars flyby in 2025. (IANS)

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot grows taller: NASA

Jupiter's Great Red Spot, which has been shrinking for a century and a half, seems to be growing taller as it gets smaller

NASA to release two missions focused on moon soon in 2022. Pixabay
NASA's reveals the change in size of Jupiter's red spot. Pixabay

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which has been shrinking for a century and a half, seems to be growing taller as it gets smaller, NASA scientists have found.

The Great Red Spot is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anti-cyclonic storm 22 degree south of the planet’s equator.

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Jupiter’s red spot is becoming longer. Pixabay.

The findings, published in the Astronomical Journal, indicate that the Great Red Spot recently started to drift westward faster than before. Historically, it’s been assumed that this drift is more or less constant.

The study confirms that the storm has been decreasing in length overall since 1878 and is big enough to accommodate just over one Earth at this point. But the historical record indicates the area of the spot grew temporarily in the 1920s.

“Storms are dynamic, and that’s what we see with the Great Red Spot. It’s constantly changing in size and shape, and its winds shift, as well,” said Amy Simon, an expert in planetary atmospheres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland.

Also Read: NASA Reveals Plans For Future Missions To Moon

“There is evidence in the archived observations that the Great Red Spot has grown and shrunk over time,” added Reta Beebe, Professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. “However, the storm is quite small now, and it’s been a long time since it last grew,” Beebe said.

Because the storm has been contracting, the researchers expected to find the already-powerful internal winds becoming even stronger. However, instead of spinning faster, the storm appears to be forced to stretch up. The change in height is small relative to the area that the storm covers, but it’s still noticeable.

Further, the Great Red Spot’s colour is also deepening, becoming intensely orange since 2014, the researchers observed. While the researchers are not sure why that’s happening, it’s possible that the chemicals which colour the storm are being carried higher into the atmosphere as the spot stretches up.

Jupiter’s red spot is decreasing in width. NASA

At higher altitudes, the chemicals would be subjected to more UltraViolet radiation and would take on a deeper colour. Once big enough to swallow three Earths with room to spare, the mystery surrounding Great Red Spot seems to deepen as the iconic storm contracts.

Researchers do not know whether the spot will shrink a bit more and then stabilise, or break apart completely. “If the trends we see in the Great Red Spot continue, the next five to 10 years could be very interesting from a dynamical point of view,” the researchers said.

“We could see rapid changes in the storm’s physical appearance and behaviour, and maybe the red spot will end up being not so great after all,” they added. IANS