We Are in a Golden Age of Asteroid Discoveries

Bill Bottke, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, talks about exciting emerging research into asteroids on Motherboard’s Space Show.
ABSTRACT breaks down mind-bending scientific research, future tech, new discoveries, and major breakthroughs.

We’re currently living in a golden age of research into asteroids, comets, and all the other weird objects in our solar system that are much too small to be considered planets. Whether it’s new insights into the space rocks that have collided with Earth in the past or trailblazing missions to go visit unexplored asteroids in the future, scientists are learning the secrets of these ancient objects, including the threats they may pose to our civilization.


Bill Bottke, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, is at the forefront of many of these efforts to understand the fascinating backstories of asteroids and to ensure that we spot and track the most hazardous objects to Earth. In a new episode of Motherboard’s Space Show, Bottke emphasizes that these bodies are some of the last completely unexplored destinations in our solar system.

“Seeing something new is always exciting,” said Bottke in the episode. “That's what most people in our field are here for. Every now and then you get this chance to see a world that no one has ever seen before. And how fun is that?”

Bottke and his colleagues will get the chance to see several new worlds soon as part of NASA’s Lucy mission, which launched in October and is on its way to visit a group of asteroids known as the Trojans.

“Their origin is completely unknown,” Bottke said. “They are one of the last sort of sub-populations of bodies in the inner solar system that we haven't investigated.”

“We think these bodies are, in a sense, like fossils,” he continued. These asteroids are telling us about the conditions that existed back when the solar system was forming, so we want to go look at these objects and see what they are.”   

Watch the episode to learn more about Lucy's goals, a forthcoming mission to a mysterious metal-rich world, the rock that wiped out the dinosaurs, the potential role of impacts in the origin of life, and the newest efforts to protect our civilization from collisions in the future.