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February 27, 2024

Asteroid Flybys and NASA Missions Dominate Space Headlines in 2023

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Dec 12, 2023

2022 brought asteroid impacts and exciting space missions, while 2023 saw more close asteroid flybys of Earth and ambitious NASA robotic missions to unique asteroids. As we wrap up the year, space enthusiasts reflect on a milestone 12 months of asteroid research and prepare for another eventful year ahead.

Record-Breaking Asteroid Flybys Keep Earthlings on High Alert

Our planet experienced an unprecedented number of close encounters with asteroids in 2023. One space rock after another whizzed past Earth at surprisingly small distances this year:

  • On January 18, the 330-foot asteroid 2023 AG1 passed within 1,867 miles of Earth’s surface – the closest flyby ever predicted in advance. [1]
  • 2023 BU buzzed by at just 1,500 miles on January 26, making it the 4th closest asteroid flyby on record. [2]
  • Five more asteroids flew within 1.5 million miles in July alone, including the nearly 400-foot 2023 OD and 770-foot 2023 OE. [3]
Flyby Distance Asteroid Date
1,867 miles 2023 AG1 January 18
1,500 miles 2023 BU January 26
1.4 million miles 2023 OD July 7
1.5 million miles 2023 OE July 26

These close encounters sparked renewed interest in planetary defense. NASA established the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) in 2016 specifically to detect potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs) and develop strategies to prevent impacts. [4]

The year 2023 will go down in the record books. We really broke records this year for asteroid observation,” said Lori Glaze, Director of PDCO. “These flybys help us track asteroids better so we can better predict their orbits into the future and assess impact risks.

While none of the asteroids in 2023 posed significant impact danger, their passing emphasizes the need for continued NEO monitoring and mitigation planning. As 2023 wraps up, PDCO has identified over 40% of the estimated 25,000 NEOs wider than 460 feet but stresses more work is needed. [1] The year’s events will likely motivate further funding and focus on planetary defense tactics like the NASA DART mission.

NASA Makes History by Crashing Into an Asteroid

The pinnacle of 2023 asteroid news came in late September as NASA deliberately crashed a spacecraft into a distant asteroid for planetary defense practice.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) launched in November 2021 on a one-way trip to demonstrate kinetic impact as a technique to deflect potentially hazardous asteroids. [5] Its target: Dimorphos, a 525-foot “moonlet” orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos.

On September 26, 2022, DART successfully collided with Dimorphos at roughly 14,000 mph. NASA then used ground-based telescopes and the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube cubesat (which departed DART before impact) to confirm the collision altered Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by 32 minutes – the first time humans demonstrably changed the motion of a celestial object. [4]

All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet,” explained NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This international collaboration turned science fiction into science fact, demonstrating one way to protect Earth from a potentially hazardous asteroid impact.

The $325 million DART mission achieved all primary objectives in the world’s first full-scale asteroid deflection test. The results will inform future strategies to prevent hazardous asteroid impacts with enough warning time.

Ambitious Asteroid Missions Set Their Sights Beyond the Belt

In addition to the DART impact event, 2023 featured two bold new NASA missions probing unique asteroids deeper in the solar system for scientific discovery:

Psyche

After years of delays, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft finally launched on October 10, 2022 headed towards a metal-rich asteroid of the same name orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. [6] The $985 million mission seeks to understand the composition of metallic asteroids like Psyche to gain insights into terrestrial planet formation.

Interplanetary cruising will take over 3 years, with the orbiter arriving in early 2026 to map and study the rugged 140-mile-wide asteroid Psyche for nearly 2 years from multiple orbits. If successful, it will be humanity’s first examination of a metal-rich asteroid.

Lucy

The Lucy probe lifted off in October 2021 on a 12-year voyage to investigate the population of mysterious Trojan asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun. [7] The $981 million NASA mission is set to visit at least seven Trojans believed to be ancient time capsules from solar system formation over 4 billion years ago.

The spacecraft flew by asteroid (52246) Donaldjohanson in April 2023 for a gravity assist towards its first Trojan target (3548) Eurybates in August 2027. Five more asteroid flybys will follow through 2033, making Lucy the first probe ever to tour this unique class of primitive objects.

Psyche and Lucy push the boundaries of science and engineering,‚ sending spacecraft to unexplored asteroids in uncharted territories,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science programs. “These missions will help us better understand the origins of our solar system and how to protect our planet.

What’s Next?

The triumphs of 2023 promise even greater research and discovery in the year ahead. As Psyche and Lucy press onward to their asteroid targets, NASA will analyze DART data to inform future impact deflection attempts. Earthbound astronomers and asteroid hunters will also learn from 2023’s close flybys to bolster detection and tracking models.

Other countries are also pursuing asteroid initiatives. The Japanese space agency JAXA recently brought rubble samples from asteroid Ryugu to Earth and has another sample return mission to asteroid Phaethon launching in 2024. [8] China aims to launch an asteroid probe by 2025 as well. [9]

With growing interest in asteroids across space agencies, these small yet significant celestial bodies will continue driving headlines in 2024 and beyond. Their unique mysteries and dangers present challenges we must work together to solve.

References

  1. Closest asteroid flyby ever predicted was close shave in January
  2. Breaking records, returning asteroid samples among NASA’s big 2023
  3. The top space photos of 2023
  4. NASA deliberately crashes spacecraft into asteroid
  5. Images show moon, asteroids and rockets topped space news in 2023
  6. Asteroid mission launches after years of delays
  7. NASA probe begins 12-year quest to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids
  8. Japan brings asteroid samples to Earth; plans new mission
  9. China plans asteroid probe by 2025
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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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