A NASA spacecraft carried more than a kilogram of asteroid The samples are placed in a capsule to return to Earth after losing some of its precious loot due to a stuck lid, scientists said on Thursday.
They will not know the exact amount of the cosmic transport of the asteroid Bennu, more than 200 million miles (322 million kilometers) 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 get the samples back safely, said chief scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft will not leave the Bennu neighborhood until March, when the asteroid and Earth are properly aligned.
Osiris-Rex collected so much material from Bennu’s rough surface on October 20 that stones got stuck on the edge of the container and opened it hard. Some of the samples were seen escaping into space, so flight controllers advanced the crucial storage operation.
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Based on the images, the scientists believe that Osiris-Rex grabbed 4 1/2 pounds (2 kg) of rubble, a full load. The minimum requirement was 2 ounces (60 grams) – a handful or two.
“Imagine a bag of flour at the grocery store,” Lauretta said of the initial purchase.
But dozens of grams of material were lost after the touch maneuver and it goes on and on again this week, when the spacecraft’s robot arm moved to place the samples inside the capsule.
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“Although my heart was broken by the loss of the sample, it ended up being a very cool scientific experiment and we are learning a lot,” Lauretta told reporters.
During sample collection, the container at the end of the robot’s arm pressed nine to 19 inches (24 to 48 centimeters) during the six seconds of contact, indicating a sandy, scaly interior under the rough surface, Lauretta said.
The slow and tedious storage operation took 36 hours. After each successful step, flight controllers applauded, saving the highest and highest response when the capsule lid was finally closed and locked, sealing the samples inside.
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It will be September 2023 – seven years after Osiris-Rex fired from Cape Canaveral – before the samples arrive here.
Rich in carbon, Bennu in solar orbit is believed to contain the preserved building blocks of the solar system. Scientists said the remnants can help explain how the planets in our solar system formed billions of years ago and how life on Earth came about. Samples can also help improve our chances, they said, if a doomsday stone comes our way.
Bennu – a rounded black rock larger than New York’s Empire State Building – may approach dangerously close to Earth in the end of the next decade. The chances of a strike are 1 in 2,700. The good news is that, although it has an impact, it will not destroy the home planet.
Meanwhile, Japan has recovered samples of other asteroids twice in the past two decades, albeit in small quantities. The second batch should arrive in December.
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