Thursday, 8 July 2010

Japan probe sees asteroid dust - a teaser

No spoilers ahead, no worries. And it is also maybe possibly unlikely that this dust was kicked up by Bruce Willis landing a mining vessel on this, possibly. Intrigued? See, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) released a two-sentence teaser on their website. The HAYABUSA probe has just returned. Joy all around!

The HAYABUSA probe was meant to go take dust from an asteroid and bring it back to Earth. Then scientists are planning on studying the dust to see what kind of minerals are present. This will teach us about the distribution of certain elements in our Solar System, giving clues towards it's evolution.

The Solar System is a tricky beast. The whole 'Pluto=dwarf planet' scandal is evidence of such trickiness. As we learn more, we have to reconsider our view and change our definitions. This is how science works. Things like asteroids are like little messengers from far away that can expand our view and teach us new things, forcing us to look at the Solar System differently or confirming what we had already thought. Science is a beautiful thing.

What is not so beautiful, however, is the world of science. Sometimes. The Japanese have just released a wee teaser of their research. The probe is back, they are in the process of opening it up and looking inside. All we know now is they 'may' have found particles from the ITOKAWA astroid. Maybe. Possibly. The waiting! AH! The waiting!! This is how science works. It's back! Hooray! We found particles! Hooray!! Now, wait. Where are they from? ...tedium ensues.

Rest assured though, that when we have to send Bruce Willis to an asteroid to drill inside and annihilate it, we will know what minerals we are dealing with. That should make the drilling easier, right?

1 comment:

  1. Well, the Japanese really just demonstrated that it was sort of feasible to do regular deep-space missions. From my understanding, the only thing that worked was two-eighths of the 4 engines (horray non-reduced fractions!). Their scoop failed to really get any penetration (hey-oh!), and I don't know what they were expecting...
    I mean, the Moon's surface would be meters deep if it weren't for vacuum cementing, and there's no reason that I'm aware of that an asteroid would be any less affected by it. I put down some rough numbers, and I think that it's entirely likely that the asteroid has only mm (instead of the moon's cm) of dust along the surface, given the drastically lower surface gravity among other things.
    Great post!