Asteroids are deemed to be cataclysmic but at the same time help to bring in the seed of components for the start of life. It is only now that a serious search for these asteroids has commenced. NASA, in the first mission of its kind, will search for “Trojan” asteroids. Trojan asteroids are associated with planets but rarely change their orbit, and therefore do not constitute a threat to the planets as it orbits the Sun. The search will be conducted by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.
OSIRIS-REx is an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security- Regolith Explorer and will search for these benign companions of Earth. NASA mission also envisages obtaining a sample of an Asteroid to Earth during its flight towards the asteroid Bennu.
The spacecraft will then switch on the onboard camera suite and start its search for the elusive “Trojan” asteroids. As mentioned earlier, these benign bodies always remain at stable point 60 degrees in the front or behind the planet. Six planets in our Solar System have the ‘Trojan asteroids’, and this includes the Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Venus, Uranus and Earth.
We know that the gas giant Jupiter has more than 6000 known Trojans, but most of the Trojans co-orbiting the Sun with Earth have been elusive except one classified as 2010 TK7. There could be much more Trojans, but it is not visible because of their proximity to the Sun when viewed from Earth.
However, in mid-February, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be parked in an ideal position to complete the survey. The spacecraft will use its MapCam imager which will systematically scan the space where the possibility of the existence of the Trojans wills the highest. It will be a precursor to the search for the satellites of asteroid Bennu.
The manoeuvres will give the chance to discover new members of the asteroid and also serve as a dress rehearsal for the actual critical mission operation which will commence once the craft reaches Bennu.