NASA parachutes asteroid sample safely over Utah desert world News

A NASA space capsule on Sunday parachuted into the Utah desert carrying the largest soil sample ever taken from the surface of an asteroid that passed through Earth’s atmosphere and delivered the astronomical sample to scientists.

The return capsule containing samples collected from asteroid Bennu in October 2020 by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is seen shortly after touching down in the desert at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range in Dugway, Utah, U.S., on Sept. 24, 2023 Is. NASA/Keegan Barber/Handout via Reuters (via Reuters)

A gumdrop-shaped capsule released from the robotic spacecraft OSIRIS-REx after the mothership passed within 67,000 miles (107,826 km) of Earth just hours earlier, a designated landing west of Salt Lake City on the U.S. military’s massive Utah test site Touched within the field and training range.

The final descent and landing, shown on a NASA livestream, marks a six-year joint mission between the US space agency and the University of Arizona. It was only the third asteroid sample, and the largest to date, returned to Earth for analysis, following two similar missions by the Japan Space Agency that ended in 2010 and 2020.

After touchdown, the capsule lay down on the sandy floor of the Utah desert on a red and white parachute, which slowed its high-speed descent to just a few feet after separation.

After some doubt about whether the initial shoot deployed properly, the main shoot opened as planned, bringing the capsule to a soft and almost flawless landing.

“We heard ‘key chute detected,’ and I literally cried,” Dante Lauretta, a University of Arizona scientist who has been involved with the project since its inception and watched the helicopter descend, said at a news conference. .

“We had a soft touch, like a dove,” said Tim Pricer, a Lockheed Martin engineer on the project.

OSIRIS-REx collected its sample from Bennu, a small, carbon-rich asteroid discovered three years earlier in 1999. The space rock is classified as a “near Earth object” because it passes relatively close to our planet every six years, although the likelihood of an impact is considered remote.

Apparently composed of a loose collection of rocks like a pile of debris, Bennu is only 500 meters (547 yards) across, making it wider than the Empire State Building, taller but smaller than the Chicxulub asteroid which Collided with Earth about 66 million years ago. First, the extinction of the dinosaurs.

fundamental remains

Like other asteroids, Bennu is a relic of the early Solar System. Because its current chemistry and mineralogy is virtually unchanged since it formed about 4.5 billion years ago, it holds valuable clues to the origin and evolution of rocky planets like Earth.

It may also contain organic molecules similar to those required for the emergence of microorganisms.

Two organic compounds were found in samples returned three years ago by the Japanese mission Hayabusa2 from Ryugu, another near-Earth asteroid, lending support to the hypothesis that celestial objects such as comets, asteroids and meteoroids bombarded the early Earth. Gave birth to a young planet. Basic ingredients for life.

OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016 and reached Bennu in 2018, then spent nearly two years orbiting the asteroid before getting close enough to snatch a sample of loose surface material with its robotic arm on October 20, 2020. .

The spacecraft departed Bennu in May 2021 for a 1.2 billion-mile (1.9 billion km) trip to Earth that included two orbits around the Sun.

Hitting the upper atmosphere at 35 times the speed of sound about 13 minutes before landing, the capsule became red hot as it fell toward Earth and temperatures on its heat shield reached 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800 C).

The Bennu specimen is estimated at 250 grams (8.8 oz), much larger than the 5 gram specimen brought back from Ryugu in 2020 or the smaller specimen brought back from asteroid Itokawa in 2010.

A recovery team of scientists and technicians stood by to retrieve the capsule and attempt to keep the samples free of any terrestrial contamination.

The dark capsule and its precious contents were taken by helicopter to a “clean room” at the Utah Test Range for preliminary testing. On Monday it will be flown aboard a military transport plane to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the canister will be opened on Tuesday to parcel out the samples into smaller samples that have been promised to about 200 scientists in 60 laboratories around the world. Was.

Meanwhile, the main body of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is expected to head off to explore Apophis, another near-Earth asteroid.

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