From advances on the ground, we are also seeing advances from space. Observations from the Hayabusa 2 and OSIRIS-REx missions are allowing us to see for the first time just how messy rubble pile asteroids can be and exactly how tiny the rubble in that rubble pile actually is. This is leading to improved computer models that can recreate the real worlds of Ryugu and Bennu and let us imagine how they were formed through dramatic, minor-planet shattering, events.
The cool under solar pressure Parker Solar Probe has also just completed passage through Comet ATLAS’s ion tail and is preparing to fly through the dust tail on June 6. This is one of the first times, if not THE first time, we have repurposed a spacecraft to chase down a comet in real-time while allowing it to continue on its primary mission. We can’t wait to bring you its results in future months.
And finally, advances in computing allow us to reimagine how the dinosaurs died. In a paper published in Science Advances with lead author D.A. King, researchers describe how the Chicxulub impact would have dug into groundwater reservoirs, creating a massive amount of steam that escaped through what are now seen as cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula. The list of things that worked together to kill the dinosaurs is ever-growing. From the initial impact inevitably squishing some, to the shockwave tossing many (some at escape velocity) to now steam, well… steaming more… to the atmosphere becoming an oven with re-entering debris giving off its heat to the atmosphere, to the prolonged darkness that came next from dust filling the atmosphere. How did the dinosaurs die? Oh, let me count the ways!
“Collisional Formation of Top-Shaped Asteroids and Implications for the Origins of Ryugu and Bennu,” Patrick Michel et al., 2020 May, 27, Nature Communications
“Prospects for the In Situ Detection of Comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS by Solar Orbiter,” Geraint H. Jones, Qasim Afghan & Oliver Price, 2020 May 5, Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society
“Probing the Hydrothermal System of the Chicxulub Impact Crater,” D. A. Kring, S. M. Tikoo, M. Schmieder et. al., 2020 May 29, Science Advances