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First NASA Probe to Return Asteroid Sample Reaches Destination

The arrival came after Japan's asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, launched in 2014, released two small robotic rovers on the asteroid Ryugu in September

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US shutdown delays space missions but NASA not grounded: Report,

The first spacecraft that NASA sent to collect sample from an asteroid has now arrived at its destination, asteroid Bennu.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft met Bennu on Monday after travelling through space for more than two years and over two billion kilometres, NASA said.

The spacecraft executed a maneouvre that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid.

It will spend almost a year surveying the asteroid with five scientific instruments with the goal of selecting a location that is safe and scientifically interesting to collect the sample and return it to Earth in September 2023.

“As explorers, we at NASA have never shied away from the most extreme challenges in the solar system in our quest for knowledge,” said Lori Glaze, Acting Director for NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

“Now we’re at it again, working with our partners in the US and Canada to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing back to Earth a piece of the early solar system,” Glaze said.

Asteroids are remnants of the building blocks that formed the planets and enabled life. Those like Bennu contain natural resources, such as water, organics and metals. Future space exploration and economic development may rely on asteroids for these materials.

Now, at about 19 kilometres from Bennu’s Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will first begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid, NASA said.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
The spacecraft executed a maneouvre that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid. Flickr

The spacecraft will commence flyovers of Bennu’s north pole, equatorial region, and south pole, getting as close as nearly seven kilometres above Bennu during each flyover.

OSIRIS-REx’s mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

The mission’s navigation team will use the preliminary survey of Bennu to practice the delicate task of navigating around the asteroid.

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The spacecraft will enter orbit around Bennu on December 31 – thus making Bennu, which is only about 492 metres across — or about the length of five football fields — the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft.

It is a critical step in OSIRIS-REx’s years-long quest to collect and eventually deliver at least 60 gram of regolith — dirt and rocks — from Bennu to Earth.

Bennu is now about 122 million kilometers from Earth. This near-Earth asteroid was chosen for study as it orbits around the Sun every 1.2 years and comes very close to Earth every six years, thereby throwing a probability of colliding with Earth in the late 22nd century.

The arrival came after Japan’s asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, launched in 2014, released two small robotic rovers on the asteroid Ryugu in September. (IANS)

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Vikram Lander Spotted On Moon

The Vikram moonlander was sent by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) aboard the Chandraayan 2 that orbited the moon

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India’s Vikram lunar lander
India’s Vikram lunar lander, which crashed on its final approach to the Moon’s surface in September, has been found. Pixabay

BY ARUL LOUIS 

Shanmuga Subramanian, the eagle-eyed citizen space scientist who found Vikram moonlander said on Tuesday that he took spotting it as a challenge when NASA couldn’t.

He said in an email interview to IANS: “It was something challenging as even NASA can’t find out so why can’t we try out? And that’s the thought that led me to search for Vikram lander.”

Subramanian, who works as an information technology architect, in his spare time looked through the images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) camera on September 17 and spotted a debris from Vikram.

Those images were taken when the light during moon’s dusk was very harsh at the place where the moonlander crashed and the long shadows made the hunt for Vikram difficult, NASA and LRO said at that time.

LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro, to whom Subramanian emailed his finding, told IANS: “The story of this really amazing individual (who) found it, helped us find it, is really awesome.”

The Vikram moonlander was sent by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) aboard the Chandraayan 2 that orbited the moon.

Vikram was launched from Chandrayaan on September 6 in hopes of making a safelanding and exploring the moon’s surface. However, it lost contact with ISRO minutes before the scheduled landing and crashed.

Vikram Moon Lander
A Moon landing is the arrival of a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. Pixabay

Petro said: “This is the wonderful thing about our data. We released it for the world and anyone can use and he used it to make this discovery.”

Subramanian suggested a crowd-sourced citizen scientist movement to help space organisations.

“LRO’s data is a treasure trove. I would suggest students and others to help out NASA, ISRO and other space organisations by building a good database of LRO images with features like comparison etc.,” Subramanian told IANS.

“Currently we have to compare it manually (and I) wish someone can do more on that, with NASA’s scientists time crunched for their Moon missions,” he added.

Asked how he got interested, Subramanian said: “Space exploration is nothing new for me as I have been interested in space right from the scratch and watched ISRO’s rocket launches closely even managed to capture some of it on my YouTube channel.

“I don’t think Vikram lander would have made a such impact on the minds of the Indian public if it had landed successfully (but) since it was lost there was a lot of discussion in public forums as well as on my Facebook regarding what malfunctioned etc.

“The crash landing of Vikram made more people interested in it and it also got eventually hooked me, which lead to me searching NASA’s pic for nearly some 4-5 hours every night.”

Subramanian spoke of the social media world of space enthusiasts where intense discussions were taking place about the mystery of Vikram and which helped his quest.

“Initially there was lot of false positives I got (that were) corrected by Twitterati and one of the tweets led to me a Reddit forum where they had the exact intended landing location and the path of Vikram,” he said.

Vikram on moon
The Moon is an astronomical body that orbits the Earth as its only permanent natural satellite. Pixabay

On being able to narrow down the area for his search, he said: “Though there was no data available about the path of Vikram lander, I eventually concluded it would have come from North Pole as one of the tweets from ‘cgbassa’ said Vikram has crossed the North Pole of the moon. And from ISRO’s live images, I made out it would have stopped short of around 1 km from the landing spot so it eventually led to me searching around 2 sq km around the landing area.”

That tweet was from CG Bassa, an astronomer with Astron, the Dutch radio astronomy institute.

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After better pictures came from the LRO’s pass over the area in October and on November 11, when the light conditions improved, the LRO camera team scoured the area surrounding the spot where Subramanian had spotted a debris and found the impact spot of Vikram’s crash and other debris, the ASU said.

The impact site is located at 70.8810AoS, 22.7840AoE, at an elevation of 834 metres, it added. (IANS)