With NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission to collect a sample from an asteroid recently making the news headlines, Hertford Astronomy Group chairman Alan Willison looks at asteroids in his latest beginner's guide to astronomy.

Prepare to be astounded by the captivating realm of asteroids! These celestial bodies, often referred to as space rocks, inhabit our vast solar system and hold secrets that continue to captivate scientists and astronomers alike.

Nestled within the asteroid belt, a region located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, these enigmatic entities have piqued our curiosity for centuries.

Asteroids come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from small rocky fragments to colossal behemoths. They are remnants from the early formation of our solar system, offering us a glimpse into its ancient history.

These mesmerizing objects have been studied extensively by scientists who seek to unravel their mysteries and understand their composition.

Occasionally, the orbit of one these space rocks gets perturbed by the gravity of a planet, usually Jupiter, and its interest becomes more intense to us – but more about that later.

While some asteroids pose potential threats if they were to collide with Earth, they also offer immense scientific value. Through exploration missions and space probes, we have gained invaluable insights into these extraterrestrial wonders.

From gathering data on their chemical composition to understanding their impact on planetary evolution, asteroids continue to leave us in awe with every new discovery.

It can be mind blowing as we delve into the realm of potential threats posed by asteroid collisions. The mere mention of near-Earth asteroids sends shivers down our spines, as these celestial objects have the power to shape the fate of our planet.

Impact events caused by asteroid collisions have been a subject of fascination and concern for scientists and enthusiasts alike. The collision risks associated with these cosmic wanderers cannot be underestimated. In fact, history bears witness to the devastating consequences that can arise from such encounters.

Imagine, if you will, an extinction-level event triggered by a colossal asteroid impact. It is a chilling thought indeed!

These cataclysmic events have occurred in Earth's ancient past, leaving their indelible mark on the planet's geological record. Many of us know about the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, but there have been five or more prior to that.

Whether they were all caused by errant asteroids is uncertain but it is well established that the last one was caused by a large impact in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

Unearthing the dangers posed by asteroid collisions is not just an exercise in curiosity; it is vital for our survival as a species. By understanding the nature and trajectory of near-Earth asteroids, we can develop strategies to mitigate potential threats and safeguard our future.

It is something to amaze us as we delve into the world of asteroid deflection strategies and NASA's extraordinary planetary defence initiatives. Scientists are on a mission to defend our beloved Earth from potential asteroid impacts, and they are leaving no stone unturned in their quest for protection.

With advanced impact monitoring systems in place, scientists are able to track asteroids with incredible precision. This allows them to identify any potential threats and take proactive measures to safeguard our planet.

But what happens when an asteroid is headed towards us? That's where the awe-inspiring strategies for asteroid deflection come into play.

NASA, at the forefront of this cosmic battle, has been developing ground-breaking technologies and techniques to divert these celestial hazards away from Earth.

From kinetic impactors that collide with asteroids to change their trajectory, to gravity tractors that use gravitational force to subtly alter their path, these ingenious methods are nothing short of astonishing.

The dedication and ingenuity displayed by scientists in their mission to defend our planet is truly awe-inspiring. Their tireless efforts remind us that even in the face of such immense challenges, humanity has the capability and determination to protect what matters most.

The potential of space mining and the resources hidden within asteroids are truly fascinating. Asteroid mining prospects offer a unique opportunity to unlock rare metals and resources that are abundant in these celestial bodies.

By tapping into the vast reserves found within asteroids, we can potentially address resource scarcity on Earth and open up new avenues for technological advancements.

These asteroids contain valuable elements such as platinum, gold, and rare earth metals, which are essential for various industries including electronics, aerospace, and renewable energy.

The idea of space mining is not just a distant dream but a realistic possibility that scientists and entrepreneurs are actively exploring. As we delve deeper into understanding the composition of asteroids and develop advanced technologies for extraction, we can envision a future where asteroid mining plays a crucial role in meeting our resource needs.

Is this fact or fiction? You may have heard in the news about the excitement caused by the landing of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in the Utah desert. The was the culmination of a seven-year mission to visit the asteroid Bennu, collect a sample of material and return it to Earth.

By studying asteroids, scientists have been able to uncover clues about the origins of life on Earth and even potential resources for future space exploration.

The challenges that come with exploring asteroids, such as their unpredictable orbits and potential hazards, only serve to highlight the importance of continued research and technological advancements in this field.

Embracing the wonders and challenges of asteroids allows us to expand our knowledge and deepen our understanding of the vastness of our universe. It is through this exploration that we can unlock new possibilities for scientific discovery, space travel, and ultimately a better future for humanity.

Asteroids aren’t the only thing that threaten life on Earth.

If you are finding astronomy fascinating you might want to come along to the next meeting of the Hertford Astronomy Group where Richard Goodrich will be giving a talk about 'How the 1910 Return of Halley’s Comet (Almost) Destroyed Civilization'.

The talk is on Wednesday, October 11 at 8pm in the Lindop Building at the University of Hertfordshire campus in College Lane, Hatfield.

You can find more details at https://hertsastro.org.uk


Photo of the Month

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Lunar impact crater TychoLunar impact crater Tycho (Image: Steve Heliczer)

Tycho is a prominent lunar impact crater located in the southern lunar highlands, named after the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601). It is estimated to be 108 million years old and is easily visible with the naked eye.

Tycho is a relatively young crater, with an estimated age of 108 million years, based on analysis of samples of the crater ray recovered during the Apollo 17 mission.

This age initially suggested that the impactor may have been a member of the Baptistina family of asteroids, but as the composition of the impactor is unknown this remained conjecture.

However, this possibility was ruled out by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer in 2011, as it was discovered that the Baptistina family was produced much later than expected, having formed approximately 80 million years ago.

The crater is surrounded by a distinctive ray system forming long spokes that reach as long as 1,500 kilometres. Sections of these rays can be observed even when Tycho is illuminated only by earthlight.

Photographed from Steve Heliczer’s light polluted garden in Cuffley, Hertfordshire.