A pair of studies published in Science and Science Advances have helped identify that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) spacecraft would have sunk into the asteroid Bennu had the spacecraft not fired its thrusters immediately after collecting samples from the surface of the small planetary body in October 2020. The respective studies examined the loosely packed exterior of Bennu, comparing its surface to stepping into a pit of plastic balls that people of all ages enjoy. The paper in Science was led by Dr. David Lauretta, Principal Investigator of OSIRIS-REx and a Regents Professor at the University of Arizona, and the paper in Science Advances was led by Dr. David Walsh, a member of the OSIRIS-REx team from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.Continue reading “OSIRIS-REx Would Have Sunk Deep into Asteroid Bennu if it Tried to Land”
NASA’s car-sized Perseverance (Percy) Mars rover has been had at work carrying out its science campaign in Jezero Crater on the Red Planet, but it’s equally been busy scouting for sites for NASA’s planned Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, which is a joint mission with the European Space Agency. One of the many tasks for Percy has been to collect sample tubes that MSR will eventually return to Earth for further analysis, having collected its ninth sample on July 6. This most recent sample is especially intriguing as it’s the first taken from the Jezero’s delta itself, which is believed to be one of the most ideal locations to search for past life on the Red Planet.Continue reading “Perseverance is Searching for the Perfect Landing Spot for the Upcoming Sample Return Mission”
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In 2014, the Japanese Space Agency JAXA launched the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft to visit asteroid Ryugu. It arrived at the asteroid in June 2018 and studied it from orbit for over a year. Hayabusa 2 even dispatched four rovers to the asteroid’s surface. After departing, it flew past Earth in December 2020, dropping off a sample of Ryugu.
Of all the scientific results from that impressive mission, the most interesting one might be this: Asteroid Ryugu might not be an asteroid. It might be the remnant of a comet.Continue reading “Asteroid Ryugu Might Actually Be a Dead Comet”
Scientists have begun studying the samples returned from the Moon by China’s Chang’e-5 mission in December 2020, and a group of researchers presented their first findings at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) last week.
“The Chang’e-5 samples are very diverse, and includes both local and exotic materials, including some glutenates [sharp, jagged lunar particles], silicas, salts, volcanic glasses, and impact glasses, along with different minerals and different rock types,” said Yuqi Qian, a PhD student at the China University of Geosciences, during his presentation at the EPSC virtual meeting.Continue reading “Chang’e-5 Returned an Exotic Collection of Moon Rocks”
On Feb. 18th, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed within the Jezero Crater on Mars. Like its predecessor, Curiosity, a fellow member of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP), the goal of Perseverance is to seek out evidence of possible life on Mars (past and present). A key part of this mission will be the first sample return ever performed on Mars, where samples obtained by Perseverance will be placed in a cache for later retrieval and return to Earth.
For the past five months, mission controllers at NASA have been driving the rover further from where it landed (Octavia E. Butler Landing Site) and conducting test flights with the Ingenuity helicopter. NASA is now in the midst of making final preparations for Perseverance to collect its first sample of Martian rock. This historic first is expected to begin by the end of the month or by early August and will culminate with the return of the samples to Earth by 2031.Continue reading “Perseverance is About to Collect the First Sample on Mars That Could Eventually be Returned to Earth”
Internal geological processes on the moon are almost non-existent. However, when it gets smacked by a space rock, its surface can change dramatically. Debris from that impact can also travel over large distances, transplanting material from one impact site hundreds of kilometers away, where it can remain untouched in its inert environment for billions of years.
So when Apollo 17 astronauts took regolith samples at their landing site near Serenitatis Basin, they collected not only rocks from the basin itself, but from other impacts that had happened billions of years ago. Differentiating material that actually formed part of the Basin from material that landed their after an impact has proven difficult.Continue reading “Apollo 17 Astronauts Brought Home Samples From the Oldest Impact Crater on the Moon”
The International Space Station (ISS) is not only the largest and most sophisticated orbiting research facility ever built, it is arguably the most important research facility we have. With its cutting-edge facilities and microgravity environment, the ISS is able to conduct lucrative experiments that are leading to advances in astrobiology, astronomy, medicine, biology, space weather and meteorology, and materials science.
Unfortunately, the cost of transporting experiments to and from the ISS is rather expensive and something only a handful of space agencies are currently able to do. To address this, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Tiger Corporation partnered in 2018 to create a new type of container that would cut the cost of returning samples to Earth. With the success of their initial design, JAXA and Tiger are looking to create a reusable version that will allow for regular sample returns from the ISS.Continue reading “JAXA Using Water Bottle Technology for Sample-Return Missions From the ISS”
After more than two years in orbit around asteroid Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is ready to come home. It’s bringing with it a pristine sample of space rocks that geologists here on Earth are eager to study up close. The sample will arrive in September 2023, but we won’t have to wait nearly that long for new data from OSIRIS-REx. Last week, the probe carried out one final flyby of Bennu, in an effort to photograph the sample collection site. The photographs are being downlinked now, and should be here by midweek.
If you’ve been following the OSIRIS-REx mission, you probably already know why scientists are keen to see these photographs, but if you haven’t, hold on to your hats – it’s a wild story.Continue reading “OSIRIS-REx Did One Last Close Flyby of Asteroid Bennu. It’s Almost Time to Come Home”
Geologists love fieldwork. They love getting their specialized hammers and chisels into seams in the rock, exposing unweathered surfaces and teasing out the rock’s secrets. Mars would be the ultimate field trip for many of them, but sadly, that’s not possible.
Instead, we’ve sent the Perseverance rover on the field trip. But if a geologist were along for the ride, what would it look like to them?Continue reading “What a Geologist Sees When They Look at Perseverance’s Landing Site”
You have to be careful what you say to people. When NASA or someone else says that the Perseverance rover will be looking for fossil evidence of ancient life, the uninformed may guffaw loudly. Or worse, they may think that scientists are looking for actual animal skeletons or something.
Of course, that’s not the case.
So what is Perseverance looking for?Continue reading “Since Perseverance is Searching for Life, What Will it Be Looking for?”