Despite the astronomical cost, the shipment is not large, weighing only a few tens of kilograms. With a little luck, the delivery company can deliver it to your home. Most of this weight is a cocoon encasing priceless contents, part of a kilogram of material taken from the asteroid Bennu. The cocoon was necessary for the sample to travel safely 1.9 billion km journey (this is six times longer than the distance from Earth to the Moon) and they would remain intact upon entering our atmosphere quickly More than 43 thousand km per hour
Thus the historical mission ends Osiris-Rex – Sending a probe to an asteroid He specifiesAnd take samples of it and return them to Earth. This effort has taken seven years (the probe was launched in September 2016) and has cost so far 1.16 billion US dollars, which is about 5 billion Polish zlotys. Dr. Jakub Siesela, a geochemist from the Institute of Geosciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences, jokes that it would be “The most expensive geological specimen on Earth”.
this mission Double historical. Not only because this is only the third time in history that samples from an asteroid have been returned to Earth (the Japanese have done it twice before). The significance of the trip to Bennu and back lies in the amount of material that tightly envelops the aforementioned cocoon. Scientists from the Land of the Rising Sun managed to bring samples weighing a few grams to our home planet. The US space agency NASA has set itself the goal of returning At least 60 gramsAnd the hope is so The capsule will contain up to four times more.
So, there’s a real chance he’ll fall to the ground tomorrow A quarter kilogram of an asteroid. Scientists are rubbing their hands. – There will now be at least several hundred grams of this material, and perhaps a kilogram, enough to conduct a whole range of geological studies. Previous specimens weighing several grams did not allow scientists to fully extend their wings, Cecilla says.
We have already detected traces of life on asteroids
Why spend so much money on such small amounts of material for analysis? The most important of which is research About the beginnings of life in space. We have already seen great success on this front.
In February of this year, the results of the analysis of a sample brought from the Ryugu asteroid (this is the target of the Japanese Hayabusa-2 mission) were published in “Science”, one of the most prestigious scientific journals. And it turns out it contains a lot The building blocks needed to create life; Scientists were able to identify Among others 15 amino acids (i.e. the compounds that make up proteins in living organisms, among other things – incl Glycine and alanine) and many other organic compounds, such as Acetic acid.
This was the moment when the OSIRIS-REx probe collided with the asteroid Bennu on October 20, 2020. The force of the collision threw material into the container. Now the container is returning to Earth, where scientists will study it.
What should be emphasized: This does not mean that there was life on asteroids. This discovery is important because it proves that the ingredients needed to build living organisms can be created in extreme conditions (after all, such an asteroid not only exists in a virtual vacuum, it also has no protective shell to protect it from the harmful radiation coming from it). Sun and space). This tells us that a very long time ago on Earth – when our planet was not as hospitable to living organisms as it is today – The building blocks of life can be successfully created.
When it comes to searching for traces of life in space, asteroids are of interest to us in another aspect. – We are looking for water there, because life is not possible – at least not as we know it – without its presence – says Sisila. — Here are the tests on samples from Itokawa [pierwsza planetoida, z której Japończycy przywieźli materiał]especially from Ryugu, also brought good news, because There was more water in it than some of us expected. This is also valuable advice: Water forms without any problems in the harsh conditions of space, including: The geochemist adds under the influence of the solar wind, which carries hydrogen atoms and leads to their fusion with oxygen.
And again: it’s not about the fact that water was “transported” to Earth by asteroids colliding with our house like space barrel carriers. The fact is that the processes that lead to their formation are nothing strange, as they can be found on rocks that are several hundred million or several billion years old. From this perspective, the water shortage seems even more strange; So we shouldn’t just wonder why there’s so much of it on Earth, but rather… Why isn’t there more of it elsewhere?.
‘Asteroids give us insight’
Life could not have developed on Earth if favorable conditions had not arisen here. This brings us to the question of the origins of the solar system, which is another question that asteroids help us answer. We know that the system started out as a cloud of dust and gas; The question is how It evolved into the form we know today?
Someone might say: Our planet is more than 4.5 billion years old. Why not search for such information locally? The problem is that the Earth today is not what it was a few billion years ago. Water and air act on the surface here It transformed him beyond recognition. It’s a bit like looking for traces of a Neolithic settlement in a place where people lived thousands of years later: in ancient times, in the Middle Ages, today. In this respect, asteroids resemble untouched ruins covered in desert sand.
The capsule containing invaluable samples will have to withstand temperatures of several thousand degrees upon entering the atmosphere.
– Earth won’t tell us much about what the solar system looked like in its early days. This is why we need information from other celestial bodiesWhich hasn’t changed much over this time, says Sezilla. This includes: That’s why, during the Apollo program more than half a century ago, scientists had high hopes for the rocks astronauts would bring back from the Moon (and they weren’t disappointed). — Bennu is purer than the Moon; Although the material of which it is composed may have undergone transformations – adds the geochemist.
Second, we are interested in how planets form. We suspect they were once the only ones Loose clumps of material coming from these asteroids — Larger or smaller rocks held together by gravity. However, building specific models is one thing, and being able to monitor this process “live” is another.
The capsule will enter the atmosphere at a speed of more than 43,000 kilometers per hour. Its speed will be slowed by air resistance and finally by the parachute – to about 17 km/h.
– We know from various studies that Itokawa [planetoida, która była celem japońskiej msiji Hayabusa-1] It was most likely created by the collision of two objects of different densities, which then stuck together. Other asteroids are made up of more parts; Some of them are so large that the parts begin to mix with each other under the influence of heat, or – as they say, “homogeneity” – points out Cecilla.
In some cases, this process is so advanced that the material begins to separate into concentric layers (professionally: disperse). – Similar processes occurred on large planets such as Earth. Asteroids give us an idea about this – adds the geochemist.
Space fuel, space building materials
There is another side to all this: the economic side. In short: Scientists want to know how many raw materials exist on an asteroid like Bennu that we can use. Space rocks can be examined remotely in this regard, but we only recognize minerals and elements on the surface. The sample brought from there will allow us to investigate what is hidden under the surface (although, of course, no one has dug deep). Researchers are interested in, among other things: Minerals.
Metals from metallic asteroids and light elements that can be used as rocket fuel from C-type asteroids like Bennu will be needed one day if we want to start conquering space, says Cecilla. Why? Because currently we take everything with us on every spaceflight – fuel, equipment, etc. This is an ineffective strategy in the long run, and also expensive; It will be easier to use what we have on site. This is, among other things, the assumption of the Artemis programme, that is, man’s return to the Moon, that we will gradually learn how to use what we find immediately.
The capsule recovery procedure is so important that NASA conducted a series of exercises in this regard. In the photo, the agency’s team is training on August 30 of this year. With a copy of the capsule in the Utah desert.
We don’t want to build bases for people on asteroids, but “space mining” has been talked about for a long time. This comes in several forms: One of them is thinking about establishing space mines and relying on raw materials in space to supply Martian and lunar bases, as well as transportation between them, without bringing them to Earth. The other idea is to bring asteroids to Earth and use them on site. – I do not think that in the near future, that is, within 50 years, we will send entire asteroids into Earth’s orbit. But in more than half a century? Who do you know? – says Sizila.
For economic reasons, we are also interested in water. Not only because in the event of continued human presence there would be no need to transport it, but also because it could be an invaluable source of rocket fuel. Water itself is not burned in rocket engines, but the elements it contains – hydrogen and oxygen – certainly do. The idea is to place panels on celestial bodies where water is present and use the sun’s energy to separate the components that make up the water molecules.
Researchers face puzzles
That’s why, as part of the Artemis programme, astronauts must land near the Moon’s south pole – and scientists hope to There are ice peaks hidden in the craters thereWhich can be processed and turned into rocket fuel.
This is what samples taken from the asteroid Ryugu look like. Will these Bennu be similar?
We now know why scientists are interested in bringing asteroid samples back to Earth. But what specific tests do they run on them? – For example, we will be able to know if it is present in the samplesThere are no chemical compounds of bento that form at high temperatures – says the geochemist. If that happens, scientists will face a puzzle: Did they originate locally or did they come from parts of other bodies?
Scientists will also check isotope ratios, that is, the “types” of individual elements. – The thing about biological processes is that they sometimes discriminate against certain isotopes. We know from our planet, for example, that bacteria tend to use the lighter sulfur 32 more often – explains Sezila. As a result, it can sometimes be observed in rocks that the ratio of sulfur-32 to sulfur-34 is disturbed in favor of the former; One might suspect that this discriminatory action is the result of the action of living organisms.
—If we observed something like this on Bennu, it would be very interestingAlthough it cannot be ruled out that, as in the early history of the Earth, when there was no protective layer of the atmosphere, photochemical processes also occurred here – says the scientist.
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