Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Japanese Asteroid

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Japanese Asteroid

Article excerpt

A space mission to a nearby asteroid, launched in 2005, has yielded some interesting clues about Earth's early formation.

Japanese scientists on that mission report in the journal Science that 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," says 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."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

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, 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 Earth's atmosphere. …

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