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Monday, March 4, 2024

Queen’s Brian Might labored on NASA mission to return asteroid pattern to Earth

Earlier than he was performing for a sea of followers in England’s Wembley Stadium, Queen guitarist Brian Might was working towards his PhD in astrophysics whereas researching the Zodiacal Mild — a glowing patch within the sky brought on by daylight reflecting off thousands and thousands of mud particles within the photo voltaic system.

By the mid-Seventies, although, Might put his otherworldly research on maintain as Queen achieved its standing as one of the well-known rock bands in historical past.

The hiatus lasted 30 years. Since then, Might has not solely acquired his doctorate, however has additionally put his expertise to the take a look at at NASA — even serving to to stop a latest mission from biting the mud.

It began when the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft — an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety-Regolith Explorer — was launched off the coast of Florida in 2016. The mission was to gather samples from asteroid Bennu, a relic from the beginning of the photo voltaic system with a 1 in 2,700 probability of smacking into Earth within the yr 2182.

A NASA capsule carrying items of an asteroid efficiently lands in Utah

Bennu, named after the traditional Egyptian birdlike deity of creation and rebirth, is believed to be the product of a cataclysmic collision that brought about a Connecticut-sized asteroid to interrupt aside, in line with NASA. Bennu is without doubt one of the scattered items — an roughly 4.5 billion-year-old compilation of rock chunks loosely held collectively by gravity that orbits the solar each 1.2 years.

The probabilities of this asteroid hitting Earth are tiny, NASA says — however not zero

In 2018, OSIRIS-REx reached Bennu’s orbit. However the issue wasn’t a lot reaching Bennu because it was touchdown atop an asteroid that scientists believed held the early photo voltaic system’s secrets and techniques. The plan for the mission was to the touch down on an space engineers known as “the seashore” for its fine-grained materials, The Washington Publish beforehand reported. But they rapidly got here to understand there was no sandy seashore — Bennu was really a rubble pile suffering from boulders.

Bennu, an asteroid with a diameter of 500 meters, has a 1 in 2,700 probability of hitting Earth in 2182. (Video: Jhaan Elker/The Washington Publish)

That’s the place Might got here in. Shortly earlier than the spacecraft launched in 2016, Might met with Dante Lauretta, the chief of the OSIRIS-REx asteroid pattern return mission. The 2 struck up a friendship primarily based on their mutual curiosity in area and a shared love for Tucson.

“Because the OSIRIS-REx mission progressed, I couldn’t assist however share a few of the newest developments with him,” Lauretta wrote within the preface of “Bennu 3-D: Anatomy of an Asteroid,” a guide he co-authored with Might. “ … To my delight, Brian confirmed a eager curiosity within the mission and the science behind it. It was clear that he was not only a informal fan, however a real area fanatic and an advocate for area exploration.”

Finally, Lauretta introduced Might on to the mission, the place the rock star performed a key position: serving to the spacecraft contact down on Bennu.

To discover a secure spot for the spacecraft to land, the rock-star physicist developed stereoscopic pictures of Bennu’s floor, Might detailed within the guide. Stereoscopic imaging is a way that injects a depth impact to flat pictures — type of like 3D glasses.

There’s a rock in area that will assist us unravel how life began

Although OSIRIS-REx’s cameras produced solely two-dimensional pictures, scientists meticulously mapped every inch of Bennu’s floor. Might then processed the scene by clipping collectively pairs of side-by-side pictures — “permitting us to see Bennu’s rugged and tough panorama in superb 3-D,” Lauretta wrote within the preface of “Bennu 3-D: Anatomy of an Asteroid.”

The rugged panorama gave beginning to a brand new drawback, he added.

“Seeing Bennu’s floor on this approach actually introduced residence the intimidating actuality of this asteroid,” Lauretta wrote. “It was far past our preliminary spacecraft design capabilities. At first, it appeared like our job was not possible, that we have been by no means going to discover a appropriate location to gather our pattern.”

Then, Might’s pictures confirmed a crater — the Nightingale Crater, to be precise. Although a boulder often known as “Mount Doom” was dangerously looming at its edge, the Nightingale Crater’s shade urged it was filled with historical regolith, or a dusty blanket of deposits that would shed mild into Bennu’s historical past. Scientists determined that was the place the place the spacecraft’s robotic arm ought to contact down and start taking samples.

In October 2020, the samples have been recovered from a floor that surprisingly acted like a “liquid droplet,” Lauretta beforehand instructed The Publish — the product of weak gravity loosely holding particles collectively and turning the asteroid right into a cosmic plastic ball pit. The descent was captured in a three-dimensional section Might helped the staff put collectively, exhibiting how bits of mud and shards flew round — some into OSIRIS-REx’s pattern chamber.

NASA says it collected a big pattern from the asteroid Bennu. Perhaps too massive.

By 2021, when the spacecraft began its return voyage to Earth, OSIRIS-REx had collected about 250 grams of fabric — greater than the initially deliberate for 60 grams in what was NASA’s first-ever pattern return mission.

On Sept. 24, these samples lastly reached Earth after they have been hurled from deep area through parachute into the Utah desert. The spacecraft, which is now heading to the asteroid Apophis, dropped the field from 63,000 miles away. After a four-hour drop, the field landed — completely upright — onto the Utah Check and Coaching Vary, the place it was collected for additional evaluation.

But Might couldn’t witness the extraplanetary drop in particular person — very similar to within the ’70s, his rock-star duties obtained in the best way.

“I’m rehearsing for a Queen tour, however my coronary heart stays with you as this valuable pattern is recovered,” Might stated in a video that aired on NASA TV on Sept. 25.

What’s contained in the pattern field nonetheless stays a thriller as “the preliminary curation course of for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx pattern of asteroid Bennu is transferring slower than anticipated,” NASA stated in a information launch, “however for the most effective cause: the pattern runneth over.”

Might posits it might be one thing extraordinary.

“This field when it’s opened of fabric from the floor of Bennu can inform us untold secrets and techniques of the origins of the universe, the origins of our planet and the origins of life itself,” the guitarist stated in a video posted on his web site. “What an extremely thrilling day.”

Maybe it is going to warrant a tune, just like the area anthem Might launched in 2019 to commemorate NASA’s New Horizons probe’s flyby into the farthest object in our photo voltaic system ever visited by a spacecraft — one other area mission he contributed to.

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