NASA’s Asteroid Autumn: A Season of Landmark Missions

NASA is gearing up for a series of significant asteroid-related milestones this fall, with three missions set to make groundbreaking discoveries. As part of what the agency refers to as “asteroid autumn,” these missions offer valuable insights into the history of the solar system and the formation of celestial bodies.

The first landmark moment is the flyby of Earth by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. On September 24th, the spacecraft will release a sample it collected from the distant Bennu asteroid in October 2020. This sample will provide researchers with an unprecedented opportunity to study the composition and origins of the early solar system.

The second mission, scheduled for launch on October 5th, is NASA’s Psyche mission to asteroid 16 Psyche. This metallic asteroid, suspected to be the core of a failed planet, presents a unique opportunity for scientists to understand the formation of planets and the nature of Earth’s own core. The Psyche spacecraft will orbit the asteroid for 26 months, mapping and studying its properties.

Finally, NASA’s Lucy mission, launched in October 2021, aims to explore Trojan asteroids, ancient remnants of the early solar system that follow or lead Jupiter in its orbit. Before reaching its primary target in 2027, the mission will conduct a flyby of a main belt asteroid called Dinkinesh in November. Despite being an engineering test, this encounter holds the potential for valuable scientific discoveries.

These missions represent NASA’s broader interest in asteroids, driven by both planetary defense and scientific exploration. By studying asteroids, scientists can gain insights into how the solar system formed and evolved and shed light on the processes still at work today. Each asteroid offers a glimpse into the building blocks of planets and moons, revealing different chemical and physical properties and diverse locations within the solar system.

As we enter “asteroid autumn,” the culmination of these missions promises to deepen our understanding of the cosmos and unlock secrets that have remained hidden for billions of years.