Don’t Bother Trying to Destroy Rubble Pile Asteroids

Detailed view of the rubble-pile asteroid 25143 Itokawa visited by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa in 2005. Credit: JAXA

The asteroids in our Solar System are survivors. They’ve withstood billions of years of collisions. The surviving asteroids are divided into two groups: monolithic asteroids, which are intact chunks of planetesimals, and rubble piles, which are made of up fragments of shattered primordial asteroids.

It turns out there are far more rubble pile asteroids than we thought, and that raises the difficulty of protecting Earth from asteroid strikes.

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Perseverance Takes a Selfie to Show off Some of its Samples

The Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with several of the 10 sample tubes it deposited on the Martian surface. Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

One of the main jobs for the Perseverance Mars rover past few weeks has been collecting carefully selected samples of Mars rock and soil. These samples have been placed and sealed in special sample tubes and left in well-identified places so that a future sample return mission can collect them and bring the Martian samples back to Earth.

Perseverance has now dropped 10 sample tubes and to celebrate, it took a couple of selfies with several of the sample tubes visible in the designated ‘sample depot’ it is creating within an area of Jezero Crater. The area of the depot is nicknamed “Three Forks.”

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Perseverance is Putting its Samples Onto the Surface of Mars, So a Future Helicopter can Pick Them Up

This image shows the location where NASA's Perseverance will begin depositing its first cache of samples. NASA's Perseverance Mars rover captured it on Dec. 14, 2022, the 646th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. This enhanced color image was taken by the rover's Mastcam-Z camera and is not representative of the way the scene would look to the human eye. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

At this point in its mission, NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover has collected almost 50% of its samples. The rover is now building its first sample ‘depot’ on the surface of Mars. The depot is a flat, obstacle-free area with 11 separate landing circles, one for each sample tube and one for the lander.

A future mission will retrieve these samples by helicopter.

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Eight Missions are Getting Extensions, Most Exciting: OSIRIS-REx is Going to Asteroid Apophis

An artist's illustration of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching asteroid Bennu with its sampling instrument extended. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA has granted mission extensions to eight different planetary missions, citing the continued excellent operations of the spacecraft, but more importantly, the sustained scientific productivity of these missions, “and the potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.” Each mission will be extended for three more years.

One of the most exciting extensions gives a new mission to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, sending it to one of the most infamous asteroids of them all, the potentially hazardous asteroid Apophis.

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This is Where the Mars Sample Return Mission Could be Landing

This image was acquired based on a hopeful scenario in which the Perseverance rover has an extended mission or two and travels outside of Jezero Crater to explore terrains to the west. In this scenario, the decision could be made to land the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission here to pick up samples collected by Perseverance. MSR will probably not land here, but acquisition of a HiRISE stereo pair provides the data needed to assess the risk of landing. The cutout shows that there are diverse colors and textures, so this would be an interesting region to explore. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

NASA’s Perseverance Rover is busy exploring Jezero Crater on Mars. Part of its mission is to collect samples for retrieval by a future mission. NASA and the ESA haven’t determined where the sample return mission will land yet.

That depends on the Perseverance mission and how it spends the rest of its time on Mars. But we know of one possible—albeit ambitious—landing spot: just west of Jezero Crater.

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50-Year-Old Lunar Samples are Opened up for the First Time

Sample collection on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 16 astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr. is shown collecting samples with the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the left background. Image: NASA

NASA’s Apollo missions to the Moon brought back about 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of samples, including rocks, rock cores, rock, pebbles, sand, and dust. Scientists have studied those samples intently over the decades and have learned a lot. But they haven’t studied all of the samples.

In an impressive act of foresight, NASA left some of the samples unopened and in pristine condition. Why? Because they knew the technology used to study the samples would only improve over the decades.

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Perseverance has Collected its First Sample of Mars and Prepared it for Return to Earth… Eventually

This composite of two images shows the hole drilled by NASA's Perseverance rover during its sucessful sample-collection attempt. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s another first for NASA.

In early September, the Perseverance rover successfully used its robotic arm and drill to drill into a rock and extract a sample. It extracted a rock core about 6 cm (2 in) long and placed it inside a sealed tube. This is the first time a robotic spacecraft has collected a sample from another planet destined for a return to Earth on a separate spacecraft.

Now we wait for the eventual return of the sample to Earth.

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Perseverance Drills Another Hole, and This Time the Sample is Intact

When it landed on Mars in February of 2021, the Perseverance rover joined a small armada of robotic explorers working hard to characterize Mars’ environment and atmosphere and determine if it ever supported life. But unlike its predecessors, one of the key objectives of the rover is to obtain samples of Martian soil and rock, which it will leave in a cache for later retrieval by a joint NASA-ESA mission.

This will be the first sample return from Mars, and the analysis of these samples will provide new insight into the geological and environmental evolution of Mars. The first attempt to obtain a sample didn’t go so well, with the sample crumbling before it was placed in the cache. Undeterred, the science team moved onto the next site and prepared to try again. A few days ago, NASA confirmed that the rover succeeded in its second attempt and has the pictures to prove it!

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Just A Couple Of Weeks From Now, OSIRIS-REx Will Grab A Sample From Bennu

An artist's illustration of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching asteroid Bennu with its sampling instrument extended. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA is about to achieve another first for their organization. In about three weeks time, on October 20th, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will descend to Bennu’s surface, briefly touch down, and collect a sample from the asteroid. The spacecraft will collect a minimum of 60 grams (2 oz.) of material for return to Earth.

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