William Harwood – CBS News
An estimated two pounds or more of rock and soil collected from the asteroid Bennu by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft have been successfully sealed up in a protective re-entry capsule for return to Earth in 2023, project managers said Thursday.
While detailed hands-on analysis cannot begin until the samples are returned, scientists have already gained insights into the flaky nature of Bennu’s soil, or regolith, by watching how it behaved when the rocks and soil were collected on October 20.
And that is already feeding into discussions about how to possibly one day divert a threatening asteroid from a collision with Earth.
“The OSIRIS-REx mission has collected a phenomenal data set about asteroid Bennu, which is a potentially hazardous asteroid with approximately (a) 1-in-2,700 chance of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century,” said Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator.
“The biggest uncertainties on the mission where the response of the regolith to the TAGSAM (sample collector) pressing down onto the surface. And I know already different groups within NASA and other agencies have been able to use our data set for scenarios of the kind that you’re describing.”
Said Lori Glaze, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters: “I think this information is going to be incredibly important as we think about how to mitigate future potential impacts from these potentially hazardous objects.”
But the primary goal of the OSIRIS-REx mission was to collect a minimum of 60 grams — 1.1 ounces — of rock and soil from Bennu, and the spacecraft appears to have far exceeded that modest requirement.
During a dramatic touch-and-go impact October 20, the spacecraft slowly descended to the surface of Bennu, pressing its TAGSAM collector down onto the soil as compressed nitrogen gas was released, stirring up a blizzard of rocks and fine-grained particles.
The collector was designed so the gas would drive small particles into internal chambers, capturing them for return to Earth. In fact, the TAGSAM captured so much material a flap intended to seal the material inside the collector was jammed open by a rock fragment, allowing small fragments to escape.
As a result, mission managers opted to stow the collector well ahead of schedule, foregoing plans to “weigh” the collected samples by slowly spinning the spacecraft and carefully analyzing its motion compared to earlier measurements when the sample collector was empty.
But with soil and small rock fragments working their way out of the collector, time was of the essence. Earlier this week, flight controllers carried out a 36-hour procedure to reposition OSIRIS-REx’s robot arm so the TAGSAM collector on the far end could be stowed and sealed inside a protective capsule.
If all goes well, OSIRIS-REx will begin the two-year trip back to Earth next spring. The sample capsule will be released in September 2023 for a parachute descent to Utah where recovery crews will be waiting to rush the material to a lab at the Johnson Space Center for initial analysis.
Because mission managers decided not to attempt weighing the collected samples, they do not know for sure how much material was captured. But based on the amount visible to OSIRIS-REx’s cameras, Lauretta said he is confident at last two pounds or rock and soil were scooped up as the TAGSAM pressed into and blow Bennu’s surface.
“There was very little resistance to the spacecraft’s downward motion from the asteroid regolith,” he said. “And so we were continuing to penetrate and burrow underneath the subsurface of the asteroid while the TAGSAM gas was being injected into the regolith.
“Current assessments are that we penetrated a minimum of 24 centimeters (9.4 inches) … and possibly as deep as over 48 centimeters (18.9 inches) with TAGSAM gas firing and collecting and driving material into the collection chamber during that entire time. So we are highly confident … the TAGSAM was was full to capacity.”
Even though a few “tens of grams” of material managed to float free of the sample collector before it could be stowed, Lauretta said he believes “we still have hundreds of grams of material in the sample collector head, probably over a kilogram easily.”
“But of course, we have to wait till 2023 to open up the TAGSAM and be sure.”
banner image via NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin
How to see a mysterious object that might be space junk fly near Earth today – CNET
The moon shouldn’t feel too jealous. Earth has another satellite right now, but it’s only a temporary fling. The exact identity of the object, named 2020 SO, is still a lingering question, but you can watch it on Monday, Nov. 30, when it gets close to Earth. The Virtual Telescope Project will livestream the flyby.
The Earth’s gravitational pull captured the object into our planet’s orbit earlier this month, which makes 2020 SO a sort of mini-moon.
Usually, we’d, and there are plenty of those flying around in space. But 2020 SO may have a more Earthly identity. The orbit of 2020 SO around the sun — which is very similar to Earth’s — has convinced researchers it’s probably not a rock, from a NASA mission.
The object’s closest approach to our planet will be on Dec. 1. The Virtual Telescope Project will offer a livestream starting at 2 p.m. PT on Nov. 30.
Virtual Telescope Project founder Gianluca Masi already managed to capture a view of the tiny object on Nov. 22. It appears as a dot against a backdrop of stars.
Scientists with NASA JPL’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) analyzed 2020 SO’s path and tracked it back in time.
“One of the possible paths for 2020 SO brought the object very close to Earth and the Moon in late September 1966,” CNEOS Director Paul Chodas said in a NASA statement earlier in November. “It was like a eureka moment when a quick check of launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.”
NASA’s ill-fated Surveyor 2 lander ended up crashing on the moon’s surface, but the Centaur rocket booster escaped into space.
NASA expects 2020 SO to stick around in an Earth orbit until March 2021 when it will wander off into a new orbit around the sun. The agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office shared a visual of the object’s journey around Earth.
The upcoming close approach should give astronomers a chance to dial in 2020 SO’s composition and tell us if it is indeed a relic from the 1960s.
Even with a telescope view, 2020 SO should look like a bright spot of light traveling against the dark of space. The cool thing is getting the chance to witness a piece of space history returning to its old stomping grounds.
Climate change has autumn leaves falling sooner, researchers say – CTV News
A new study based on European forest trees indicates that climate change is leading to longer growing seasons and causing leaves to fall earlier in the year.
Using a combination of experiments and long-term observational research dating back to 1948, scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and University of Munich found that leaves are likely to fall three to six days sooner by the end of the 21st century, rather than lengthening by one to three weeks as current models have predicted.
Researchers say this predicted pattern will limit the capacity of temperate forests to mitigate climate change through carbon uptake.
In conducting their research, scientists obtained more than 430,000 phenological observations from 3,855 sites across Central Europe from 1948 to 2015.
According to the study, elevated carbon dioxide, temperature and light levels are causing an increase in spring and summer photosynthetic productivity. Leaves are emerging earlier and they’re also falling sooner than expected.
The new findings reveal the critical constraints on future length of growing-seasons and carbon uptake of trees.
Natural Resources Canada says forests can act as either carbon sources or carbon sinks, which means that a forest can either release more carbon than it absorbs or it can absorb more carbon than it releases.
“For decades we’ve assumed that growing seasons are increasing and that the autumn leaf-off is getting later,” co-researcher and professor at ETH Zurich Thomas Crowther told The Guardian. “However, this research suggests that as tree productivity gets higher, the leaves actually fall earlier.”
Scientists discover new balloon-like species using HD video only – The Weather Network US
Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently identified a new species of gelatinous sea creature with the use of only one tool: high definition video footage captured at the bottom of the ocean.
It’s a first for the administration and could serve as a blueprint for how to identify new species in the absence of physical specimens — an often “contentious” practice that could become more widely accepted as video technology improves.
The creature – called Duobrachium sparksae – is species of ctenophore, discovered by the remotely-operated vehicle Deep Discoverer during a 2015 dive off the coast of Puerto Rico, nearly 4,000 metres below the surface.
The reason the discovery is only coming to light now is because scientists had to take extra precautions to make sure the species was, in fact, unique, ScienceAlert reports.
Traditionally, new species are discovered with physical evidence, but that wasn’t the case here — prompting an extra-long period of research and due diligence.
The comb jelly, or ctenophore, was first seen during a 2015 dive with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research team. Caption and photo courtesy: NOAA.
The use of photographic evidence to establish new species has been “highly contentious in recent decades,” the paper says, but the footage was widely accepted. That’s due, in part, to a high-powered camera that was sensitive enough to detect subtle details on D. sparksae’s body.
“Video identification can be controversial,” NOAA marine biologist Allen Collins says in a statement.
“For example, some insect species descriptions have been done with low-quality imagery, and some scientists have said they don’t think that’s a good way of doing things. But for this discovery, we didn’t get any pushback. It was a really good example of how to do it the right way with video.”
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The findings are detailed in a recently-published paper in Plankton and Benthos Research.
“It’s unique because we were able to describe a new species based entirely on high-definition video,” NOAA marine biologist Allen Collins says in a YouTube video.
“We don’t have the same microscopes as we would in a lab, but the video can give us enough information to understand the morphology in detail, such as the location of their reproductive parts and other aspects.”
The camera is a marvel in itself. Referred to as ‘D2’ by NOAA, it can tolerate depths up to 6,000 metres and can zoom in on a three-inch organism from 10 feet away. It’s equipped with 20 LED lights to illuminate the ocean floor and has manipulator arms that can collect biological and geological samples.
Scientists describing the comb jelly species say it resembles a hot air balloon. Illustrations by Nicholas Bezio. Caption and photo courtesy: NOAA.
In a statement, NOAA Fisheries scientists Mike Ford called the new organism “beautiful.”
In total, three organisms were observed, with one of them “moving like a hot air balloon attached to the seafloor” — suggesting they may be able to anchor themselves to the seabed.
“We did not observe direct attachment during the dive, but it seems like the organism touches the seafloor,” he added.
Around 200 species of ctenophores have been discovered to date, with new species confirmed once a year or so.
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