Japanese asteroid mission sets stage for NASA’s 2016 space mission

Washington, Aug 26: Japanese scientists on a space mission launched in 2005 to a nearby asteroid have come out with some interesting clues about Earth’s early formation, which would help NASA scientists on their next asteroid mission scheduled to be launched in 2016.

The scientists said despite retrieving a very small sample from the nearby Itokawa asteroid, 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 Earth’s oceans and life,” he highlighted.

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 as meteors, 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 the Earth’s atmosphere.

That is helpful to understanding the origin and evolution of the planet and the solar system.

Campins is part of the OSIRIS-REx mission, which targets an older and more primitive asteroid, and believes the sample collected may hold important clues to understanding the illusive question of how the Earth got its oceans.

The findings have been reported in the journal Science. (ANI)