Scientists said a NASA spacecraft put more than two pounds of asteroid samples in a capsule to return to Earth after losing some of its valuable loot due to the jammed cover.
They will not know the exact cosmic distance from the asteroid Bennu, more than 200 million miles (322 million km) away, until the capsule parachutes into the Utah desert in 2023.
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“We still have a lot of work to do” to safely return samples, said chief scientist Dante Loretta of the University of Arizona.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft will not leave Bennu until March at the earliest, when the asteroid and Earth will be correctly aligned.
Osiris-Rex collected so much material from Bennu’s rough surface on October 20 that rocks darted into the edge of the container and opened up. Some samples were seen escaping into space, so flight controllers rose to the crucial storage process.
A NASA spacecraft gets a sample from a nearby asteroid Bennu
Based on the images, scientists believe that Osiris Rex snatched 4 pounds (2 kg) of rubble, a full load. The minimum requirement was 2 ounces (60 grams) – a handful or two.
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“Just imagine a bag of flour at the grocery store,” said Loretta of the initial load.
But dozens of grams of material were lost after a successful touch-and-launch maneuver and again this week when he moved the spacecraft’s robot arm to place the samples inside the capsule.
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“Even though my heart is broken due to the loss of the sample, it turned out to be a wonderful scientific experiment and we are learning a lot,” Loretta told reporters.
While collecting the samples, Loretta said the container at the end of the robot’s arm pressed 9 to 19 inches (24 to 48 cm) apart within six seconds of contact, indicating the presence of flaky sand from the inside under the rough surface.
The slow and tedious storage process took 36 hours. After each successful move, flight controllers cheered, providing the largest and highest response when the cap on the capsule was closed and finally closed, sealing the samples inside.
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It will be September 2023 – seven years after the Osiris Rex missile launched from Cape Canaveral – before the samples arrive here.
Rich in carbon, the Bennu orbiting the Sun is thought to contain the preserved building blocks of the Solar System. Scientists said the remains could help explain how the planets of our solar system formed billions of years ago and how life arose on Earth. They said samples could also help improve our odds, if a doomsday rock was on our way.
Pino – a round black rock larger than the Empire State Building in New York – could get dangerously close to the ground in the late next decade. The odds of a hit are 1 in 2,700. The good news is that while you mobilize a punch, it won’t wipe out the planet home.
Meanwhile, Japan has recovered samples from other asteroids twice in the past two decades, despite meager quantities. The second batch is scheduled to arrive in December.
© 2020 Canadian Press
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