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“It Is A More Rugged Surface Than We Predicted,” NASA’s Plan to Scoop Up Dirt from Asteroid Hits Complication

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, touched down on another asteroid in February, also on a mission to collect material. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission.

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This artist's rendering made available by NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. VOA

NASA’s plan to scoop up dirt and gravel from an asteroid has hit a snag, but scientists say they can overcome it.

The asteroid Bennu was thought to have wide, open areas suitable for the task. But a recently arrived spacecraft revealed the asteroid is covered with boulders and there don’t seem to be any big, flat spots that could be used to grab samples.

In a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature, scientists say they plan to take a closer look at a few smaller areas that might work. They said sampling from those spots poses “a substantial challenge.”

“But I am confident this team is up to that substantial challenge,” the project’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

The spacecraft, called Osiris-Rex, is scheduled to descend close to the surface in the summer of 2020. It will extend a robot arm to pick up the sample, which will be returned to Earth in 2023. The spacecraft began orbiting Bennu at the end of last year, after spending two years chasing down the space rock.

FILE - This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu.
This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. VOA

When the mission was planned, scientists were aiming to take dirt and gravel from an area measuring at least 55 yards (50 meters) in diameter that was free of boulders or steep slopes, which would pose a hazard.

“It is a more rugged surface than we predicted,” said Lauretta, of the University of Arizona in Tucson and one of the paper’s authors. But he said he believed a sample could still be collected.

NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won’t delay the sampling.

Patrick Taylor, who studies asteroids at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston but didn’t participate in the spacecraft mission, noted in a telephone interview that the spacecraft was evidently maneuvering more accurately and precisely than had been expected.

“That gives me confidence they will be able to attempt a sample acquisition,” he said.

NASA
NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won’t delay the sampling. VOA

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Bennu is 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) from Earth. It’s estimated to be just over 1,600 feet (500 meters) across and is the smallest celestial body ever orbited by a spacecraft.

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, touched down on another asteroid in February, also on a mission to collect material. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission. (VOA)

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Incredible Full Moon Falls on 50th Anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11

The partial lunar eclipse will occur during the full moon beginning Tuesday night

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Full Moon, Anniversary, NASA
The moon is seen during a lunar eclipse known as the "Super Blood Wolf Moon," in Manaus, Brazil, Jan. 21, 2019. VOA

The last lunar eclipse of the year will take place this week, allowing stargazers from large swathes of the globe to catch a glimpse of the celestial phenomena.

The partial lunar eclipse will occur during the full moon beginning Tuesday night, and will be visible in South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. The only region that will miss out on viewing the eclipse entirely is North America.

A lunar eclipse occurs when there is an alignment of the moon, the sun and the Earth. It can only happen during a full moon, because that is the only time the moon can be directly opposite of the sun in Earth’s sky.

The upcoming alignment will result in a partial lunar eclipse because the moon will be slightly askew from a direct line with Earth’s shadow.

Full Moon, Anniversary, NASA
The last lunar eclipse of the year will take place this week, allowing stargazers from large swathes of the globe to catch a glimpse of the celestial phenomena. Pixabay

This lunar eclipse will come two weeks after a total eclipse of the sun was visible over South America. This follows a typical astronomical pattern of lunar eclipses occurring within two weeks of a solar eclipse.

The last lunar eclipse took place in January 2019 and was visible from both Americas as well as parts of Europe and Africa. The next lunar eclipse will not take place until next year, however all four eclipses in 2020 will only be penumbral eclipses, which are much weaker than partial or full eclipses.

During penumbral eclipses, the moon passes through the weakest shadow cast by Earth and often does not visibly darken to the naked eye.

There won’t be another total lunar eclipse until May 2021.

Also Read- India Aborts Launch of Spacecraft Intended to Land on Far Side of Moon

Apollo anniversary

Tuesday’s lunar eclipse will be seen by stargazers at different times around the globe. Viewers in South America will be the first to see Earth’s shadow touch the moon’s surface when the moon is rising in the sky around sunset July 16, while watchers in Asia and Australia will see the moon in eclipse as it sets around sunrise July 17.

Interestingly, this celestial event falls on the anniversary of another lunar happening: July 16 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 rocket launch, which first landed humans on the moon. (VOA)