NASA confirms presence of water in asteroid samples dropped on earth by spacecraft

NASA on Wednesday confirmed off its first asteroid samples delivered final month by a spacecraft — a jumble of black mud and rubble that is probably the most ever returned to Earth.

An image of a few of the pattern matter collected from the asteroid is displayed throughout a press convention for the OSIRIS-REx pattern unveiling on the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on October 11.(AFP)

Scientists anticipated getting a cupful however are nonetheless not sure how a lot was grabbed from the carbon-rich asteroid named Bennu, virtually 60 million miles (97 million kilometres) away. That’s as a result of the principle pattern chamber has but to be opened, officers mentioned throughout an occasion at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“It’s been going slow and meticulous, but the science is already starting,” mentioned the mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona.

NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft collected the samples three years in the past from the floor of Bennu after which dropped them off sealed in a capsule throughout a flyby of Earth final month. The anticipated cupful was way over the teaspoon or in order that Japan introduced again from a pair of missions.

Black mud and particles have been scattered across the exterior fringe of the inner pattern chamber, in response to Lauretta. He mentioned there’s nonetheless “a whole treasure chest of extraterrestrial material” to be studied. The samples are priceless, the preserved constructing blocks from the daybreak of the photo voltaic system.

No one at Wednesday’s celebration at Johnson acquired to see any of the samples firsthand — simply photographs and video. The asteroid items have been behind locked doorways in a brand new lab on the house centre, accessible solely to scientists in protecting gear.

Besides carbon, the asteroid rubble holds water within the type of water-bearing clay minerals, Lauretta and others identified.

“That is how we think water got to the Earth,” he mentioned. “Minerals like we’re seeing from Bennu landed on Earth 4 billion years ago to 4.5 billion years ago, making our world habitable.”

That was one of the primary reasons for the $1 billion, seven-year mission: to help learn how the solar system — and Earth in particular — formed. “You can’t get more exciting than that,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Back in 2020, Lauretta and his team lost some of their haul when the lid on the sample container jammed a few days after the spacecraft collected the material. It vacuumed up so many pieces from Bennu that small rocks got lodged under the lid and prevented it from closing, sending pieces floating off into space.

That’s why scientists did not have a precise measurement of what was coming back; they estimated 250 grams, or about a cupful, ahead of the Sept. 24 landing in the Utah desert. They won’t have a good count until the container is opened, within two weeks or so.

Much of the material shown Wednesday was overflow from when the lid was stuck open, before everything could be sealed inside the return capsule. The larger visible rocks were under an inch (2.5 centimetres) in size.

“We have a bounty of sample on our hands already and we’re not even inside” the main sample container, said NASA astromaterials curator Francis McCubbin.

Once the samples are archived, the team will dole out particles to researchers around the world, while saving a fair amount for future analysis when better technology should be available.

NASA has another asteroid-chasing spacecraft on a Florida launch pad, ready to blast off later this week. The destination will be a rare asteroid made of metal named Psyche. No samples will be coming back.

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