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Space rocks

Image credit - NASA
Image credit - NASA

The asteroids in our solar system are the remnants of planetary formation. They hold clues about how the Milky Way formed, but they also hold promise and peril for humans as the source of both rich materials and potentially dangerous cratering events. This month we look at the latest in asteroid research. We speak to Dr Naomi Murdoch, a planetary scientist, about her work investigating asteroids, how to land on them and how to defend Earth from a dangerous event. We look in depth at how scientists in the field of planetary defence are developing rapid response techniques to detect an Earth-bound ‘imminent impactor’, determine within days whether it’s dangerous, and evacuate people from the danger zone. We speak to scientists studying exactly what asteroids are composed of so that we can categorise them from Earth, and we look at work studying asteroid dust to see what it can tell us about the early days of our solar system and the origins of life on our planet.

See also

‘The line is getting fuzzier’: asteroids and comets may be more similar than we think

As anyone who has ever tried to clean a home knows, ridding yourself of dust is a Sisyphean effort. No surface stays free of it for long. It turns out that space is somewhat similar. Space is filled with interplanetary dust, which the Earth constantly collects as it plods around the sun – in orbit, in the atmosphere, and if it’s large enough, on the ground as micrometeorites.

How scientists are ‘looking’ inside asteroids

Asteroids can pose a threat to life on Earth but are also a valuable source of resources to make fuel or water to aid deep space exploration. Devoid of geological and atmospheric processes, these space rocks provide a window onto the evolution of the solar system. But to really understand their secrets, scientists must know what’s inside them.

How do we know if an asteroid headed our way is dangerous?

There are a lot of things that pose a threat to our planet – climate change, natural disasters, and solar flares, for example. But one threat in particular often captures public imagination, finding itself popularised in books and films and regularly generating alarming headlines: asteroids.

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