Asteroids and Trojans are spread from Mars onwards. They appear as race cars in the formation of the solar system. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is helping Andrew Rivkin of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory team in their research about these chunks of rocks. The team hopes to collect new data to shed more light on such astronomical mysteries.
Rivkin says that vital information about asteroids is their infinite number, which means they will always observe something with the Webb.
Rivkin is partnering with other aerospace experts to perceive the asteroids in near- and mid-infrared light. Their research aims to add new findings of asteroids, their composition, and hints of the history of how planets used to orbit the sun. Over the years, technical data spells that the sun was a small mass of dust and gas. The theory then speculates that the scattered gases and dust around the sun started condensing, and with gravitational influence, planets began forming.
The theory suggests that Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn, and Uranus keep moving away from their initial position. It records that Jupiter’s movement stirs up these asteroids making them never merge. Scientists have come to realize that asteroids are rocky leftovers of rocky planets and moved from their previous location.
The Rivkin-led research team is planning to explore three asteroids and two Trojans to gather more information about them as they test new techniques with Webb Telescope. They are going to study the asteroids with NIRSpec, Near-Infrared Spectrograph. This instrument decomposes light into a spectrum that scientists can use to understand the components of the asteroids.
The scientists are targeting Ceres, which has ammonia on its surface. This information is the findings of NASA’s Dawn spaceship. The scientists are going to understand if this dwarf planet collected material from the space field. The team plans to obtain additional data to verify if the surface composition of Ceres is truly ammonia. The findings are also going to help analyze if the Webb is capable of observing brighter space material. Milam says this is going to pave the way for other scientists to do research.
Another critical target asteroid is Pallas. Docking at this asteroid is hard because of its orbit. Webb comes in handy to obtain data from this asteroid. The team then will contrast Pallas with other asteroids like Hygeia and Ceres. The comparison is going to help understand the formation of the asteroids.
The Trojan targets for the team are Hektor and Patroclus. They are essential because they have moons and are closer to Jupiter. The binary Patroclus has more space to its moon while Hektor is and has its moon orbiting close to it. The team intends to study the two together with their satellites. They hope to understand why these Trojan asteroids are in their current orbits.
The team says that their targets are relevant to current and future missions. For instance, Patroclus is a target for the next Lucy mission. Thomas, one of the researchers, adds that the data to be gathered through Webb is essential for comparison with earth-based observatories.
By understanding the mysteries of these asteroids, the team can reasonably speculate the solar system’s appearance in the past. The team reiterates that Webb is a crucial instrument because it uses its infrared light in observing targets that other facilities are unable to find. Rivkin adds that Webb gathers more data compared to ground-based telescopes.
Milam says that the findings of Webb are going to spark questions about the solar system. In this way, scientists can develop ideas to develop Webb and continue the solar system exploration. This research forms the GTO program. GTO provides opportunities for scientists to evaluate the reliability of Webb in its development. Hammel, one of GTO program scientists, says that this research aims at paving the way for future research with Webb.
Finally, the Webb Telescope is going to gather data about unanswered questions of the solar system. Webb’s launch in 2021 is going to spark the urge of scientists to explore the solar system.