Thursday, July 08, 2010

Asteroids and Comets Spark Scientists' Curiosity

"The study of comets and asteroids represent a sample of Solar System material at different stages of evolution, key to understand the origin of our own planet and of our planetary neighborhood" says the European Space Agency

Rosetta's encounter with asteroid Lutetia on 10th July 2010 18:00 – 23:00 CEST

A billion-euro (1.25-billion-dollar) European spacecraft will get up close and personal with an asteroid this Saturday as the probe blasts through the Solar System on its way to rendezvous with a comet. The flyby comes halfway in the extraordinary tale of the European Space Agency's Rosetta, launched in 2004 on a 12-year, 7.1-billion-kilometre (4.4-billion-mile) mission. One of the biggest gambles in the history of space exploration, the unmanned explorer is designed to meet up in 2014 with Comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko 675 million kms (422 million miles) from home.

Hayabusa of JAXA


These objects could hit the Earth hard and cause damage according to their size and this is to know what a science fiction earth disaster risk would be that governments and space agencies, ESA, JAXA launched various space research projects to investigate the asteroids.

Hayabusa, formerly known as MUSES-C for Mu Space Engineering Spacecraft C, was launched on 9 May 2003 for a rendez-vous with asteroid Itokawa in mid-September 2005. After arriving at Itokawa, Hayabusa studied the asteroid's shape, spin, topography, colour, composition, density, and history. In November 2005, it landed on the asteroid. It return the Earth June 13rd 2010 with celestial samples.

"Material found in the Hayabusa spacecraft's sample collection compartments could offer insight into the creation and makeup of the solar system. The capsule landed successfully in the Australian Outback last month after a seven-year, 4-billion mile (6-billion kilometer) journey despite a series of technical glitches that raised worries that the mission could fail. Hayabusa, launched in 2003, reached an asteroid called Itokawa in 2005. After taking photos from all angles of the 1,640-foot (500-meter) -long asteroid, Hayabusa landed on it twice in November 2005. The spacecraft then limped home after developing a fuel leak and losing contact with Earth for seven weeks. It was the first spacecraft ever to successfully land on an asteroid and then return home." (Sources: Agencies)

There is a high probability that some dust was trapped in the sampling chamber during contact with the asteroid, so the chamber was sealed, and the spacecraft returned to Earth on 13 June 2010.

"Months of research are necessary to determine if the dust came from the asteroid or was picked up by Hayabusa on its return"
Professor Junichiro Kawaguchi

Japanese scientists announced that at least two tiny particles, no bigger than 1/100th of a millimeter, have been found which they hope are of extraterrestrial origin, Japanese news stated. The particles are only visible by microscope, but if from the asteroid could still yield important data on the universe.

The Yomiuri reported that, in actuality, more than ten particles large enough to be visible to the eye have been discovered while JAXA stated to reporters that they hope to have all found particles under go analysis by the end of September, with results coming back by the end of the year. Tiny particles inside the capsule of the Hayabusa spacecraft that made the world's first round-trip mission to an asteroid. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has found several dozen additional particles in a container inside a tiny capsule that the Hayabusa unmanned space probe released in June after a seven-year round-trip to the asteroid Itokawa.

The announcement made on Wednesday at a press conference at Foreign Press center, Japan, came after JAXA reported Monday that two particles measuring about 0.01 mm in diameter were found in the container for Itokawa surface samples. The agency said the newly discovered particles are several thousandths of a millimeter in diameter and it will analyze them to see if they are from the asteroid, which is about 300 million km from Earth.

The celestial particles found in the sample container of the Hayabusa space probe

Asteroids are thought to be celestial bodies that preserve information from the time of the Solar System's formation. If scientists collect a sample from an asteroid and bring it back to Earth to carry out precise research on it, we can gain some precious clues to understand the origin and evolution of the Solar System.

Hayabusa mission

Bringing back a sample from a celestial body in the Solar System is called "Sample Return." "HAYABUSA" as a probe is to verify the practicality of acquired technology developed to archive future full-scale "sample return missions." "HAYABUSA' was launched aboard the M-V Launch Vehicle on May 9,2003. It was accelerated by a swing-by of the Earth in May 2004 and reached its target Asteroid Itokawa on September 12,2005, after traveling about 2 billion kilometers. in September and October that year, "HAYABUSA" completed the most remote-sensing and measurement of the geometry of Itokawa and made two landings in November to collect a sample from Itakawa. Through scientific observations performed during "HAYABUSA's" stay on Itokawa various knowledge was obtained including on its gravity and surface condition.

At 15:22 on May 19. 2004 (JST), HAYABUSA approached most closely to the earth at an altitude of 3,700 km over the Eastern Pacific Ocean and performed the powered swing-by by accelerating itself with ion engines. At that time, three cameras (one telecamera and two wide-angle cameras) and one near-infrared spectrometer, which were designed to be used for navigation and scientific observations, photographed the Moon and Earth, while simultaneously performing calibration and performance evaluation of the instruments. In September 2005, the explorer arrived at the asteroid Itokawa about 300 million km away from the earth. In November 2005, it successfully landed on Itokawa. In April 2007, HAYABUSA started full cruising operation to return to earth.


Scientific observations were made over the asteroid Itokawa from mid-September through end-November 2005. Four observation instruments from altitudes of 20km to 3km observed Itokawa’s shape, terrain, surface altitude distribution, reflectance (spectrum), mineral composition, gravity, major element composition, etc. The observations provided new information to study the asteroid formation process, important guidelines for future explorations of all types of asteroids.

Fascinating film of the Hayabusa Space Probe Ship Re-entry (HD). Hayabusa space capsule after a seven-year, billion-mile journey to the asteroid Itokawa seen here back to Earth

Last but not least: An asteroid to eclipse a star tonight!

Tonight, the European Space Agency reports that during Thursday-Friday night, a star visible to the naked eye, Delta Ophiuchi (the fourth brightest star in the constellation Ophiuchi), will be occulted by asteroid Roma, which is about 50 km across. It is reported that this asteroid eclipse will be the only one in this century that will be visible with the naked eye.

It would be much similar to a solar eclipse where the asteroids, rocky or metallic objects around the sun which were left over while the formation of the solar system. It would last just for few seconds as the asteroids move relatively fast and could be seen in central Europe, Spain... and the Canary Islands.

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