Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

We're entering a new age of asteroid science

Scientists are gathering more data, details and answers about asteroids than ever before.

Why it matters: Asteroids are thought to be key to unlocking exactly how planets and other bodies formed from a roiling mass of gas and dust orbiting the Sun billions of years ago.

  • These relatively small bodies in the solar system represent the leftovers of planet formation — from pristine asteroids that haven't changed much in billions of years to others that may have once been parts of larger bodies.

State of play: Researchers have been studying asteroids for decades, but current missions will deliver to Earth some of the first direct samples from asteroids, allowing scientists to study them with high-powered instruments on the ground.

  • NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft gathered a sample of the asteroid Bennu last year with the plan to return it back to Earth in 2023.
  • The mission is designed to help piece together how life may have formed early in our planet's history by searching for the chemical markers and resources — water, carbon, etc. — considered precursors to life.
  • Another mission — Hayabusa2, from Japan — returned a sample of an asteroid back to Earth in December 2020. Some of that analysis began this summer.

What to watch: A new crop of missions is expected to further change how scientists understand these strange objects.

  • NASA's Lucy spacecraft — set to launch in October — is designed to study a group of asteroids near Jupiter called the Trojans, which are thought to be the material left behind from the formation of the giant planets.
  • "From an exploration point of view, we're going to see something we've never seen before," Hal Levison, the leader of the Lucy mission, told me.
  • Another mission, expected to launch in August 2022, will study the asteroid Psyche, thought to be made predominantly of metal that could be from the destroyed core of a planet. That will help scientists figure out how planets like ours — which has an iron core — formed.
  • "My secret dream is to look at Psyche and see something just visually bizarre," Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal investigator of the Psyche mission, told me, explaining that the metal-rich world may have odd-looking craters and boulders owing to its strange composition.

Between the lines: This kind of research into asteroids is about more than just basic science. Some asteroids cross Earth's path through space, putting our planet at risk for an impact.

  • Science done by OSIRIS-REx, for example, has refined scientists' predictions about whether Bennu may ever impact Earth, with a recent study showing that the asteroid will make a relatively close pass of the planet in 2135 without posing a threat.
  • NASA's DART mission is expected to meet up with an asteroid and help scientists learn how to deflect it if a space rock ever were to threaten Earth.

The big picture: Planets have been a major focus of scientific efforts, but they're just one indicator of how our solar system formed.

  • "It turns out that there's as much or even more variety in the small bodies than there is in the big planets that we're familiar with, and the small bodies inhabit all the parts of the solar system," Elkins-Tanton said.

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

Keep reading... Show less

Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

Keep reading... Show less

"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

Keep reading... Show less

What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories