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: Venus Express spacecraft, low on fuel, does delicate dance above doom below

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

Orion on track at T MINUS 1 Week to first blastoff

17 hours ago

At T MINUS 1 Week on this Thanksgiving Holiday, all launch processing events remain on track for the first blast off of NASA's new Orion crew vehicle on Dec. 4, 2014 which marks the first step on the long ...

Bad weather delays Japan asteroid probe lift off

23 hours ago

Bad weather will delay the launch of a Japanese space probe on a six-year mission to mine a distant asteroid, just weeks after a European spacecraft's historic landing on a comet captivated the world.

Manchester scientists boost NASA's missions to Mars

Nov 27, 2014

Computer Scientists from The University of Manchester have boosted NASA space missions by pioneering a global project to develop programs that efficiently test and control NASA spacecraft.

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.