Japanese asteroid mission a success; next up, NASA

Aug 26, 2011

A space mission to a nearby asteroid launched in 2005 has yielded some interesting clues about earth’s early formation.

Japanese scientists on that mission report today in the journal Science that despite retrieving a very small sample from the nearby Itokawa , the knowledge gained is huge.

“This is a great achievement for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency,” said Humberto Campins, a professor at the University of Central Florida and international expert on asteroids and comets. “The analysis of the Itokawa asteroid sample illustrates the wealth of information that can be obtained even from very small samples and sets the stage nicely for NASA’s OSIRIS REx mission, which is to sample a more primitive asteroid. That asteroid should help us understand the role asteroids played in the origin of ’s oceans and life.”

What scientists found in the Itokawa sample is unequivocal evidence that this type of asteroid is the parent of ordinary chondrites – the most common type of meteorites found on earth. Space weather morphs asteroid fragments and when they enter earth’s atmosphere they burn up, changing their chemical nature a bit. That’s why they are referred to as meteorites. The Japanese’s pristine sample has helped distinguish the original material on the rock and how it changed when it entered earth’s atmosphere. That is helpful to understanding the origin and evolution of the planet and the solar system.

Although technical glitches caused the Japanese to collect a smaller sample size than had been intended, Campins said the knowledge gained offers great insight and only makes him more eager to see NASA’s own asteroid mission take place.

The OSIRIS-REx mission, which targets a primitive asteroid, is scheduled to launch in 2016. Campins is part of that scientific team and believes the sample collected may hold important clues to understanding the illusive question of how the earth got its oceans.

He has reason to believe water on earth may have originally come from a primitive asteroid. Campins made international headlines in 2010 when he discovered evidence of water ice on two other primitive asteroids based on long-range observations. OSIRIS REx is an opportunity to potentially confirm those findings through a hands-on sample.

“It’s very exciting,” Campins said. “I just can’t wait to see what we find and what surprises Mother Nature has in store for us.”

Explore further: SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Human mission to an asteroid: Why should NASA go?

Aug 24, 2011

Imagine, if you can, the first time human eyes see Earth as a distant, pale blue dot. We’ve dreamed of deep space missions for centuries, and during the Apollo era, space enthusiasts assumed we’d ...

AKARI's observations of asteroid Itokawa

Aug 23, 2007

The space-borne infrared observatory AKARI, observed asteroid Itokawa last month with its Infrared Camera. The data will be used to refine estimates of sizes of potentially hazardous asteroids in the future.

NASA plans to visit a near-Earth asteroid

Aug 17, 2011

In a few years a NASA spacecraft will seek the building blocks of life in a shovelful of asteroid dirt. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, targeted for launch in September 2016, will intercept asteroid 1999 RQ36, orbit it for a year, ...

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

Dec 19, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

Dec 19, 2014

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

Spinning up a dust devil on Mars

Dec 19, 2014

Spinning up a dust devil in the thin air of Mars requires a stronger updraft than is needed to create a similar vortex on Earth, according to research at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.