Earth is closer to supermassive black hole at center of our galaxy than we thought

This map has suggested that the center of the Milky Way, and the black hole which sits there, is located 25,800 light-years from Earth. This is closer than the official value of 27,700 light-years adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1985, the release said.

New type of black hole detected in massive collision that sent gravitational waves with a 'bang'

What’s more, according to the map, our solar system is traveling at 227 kilometers per second as it orbits around the galactic center — this is faster than the official value of 220 kilometers per second, the release added.

These updated values are a result of more than 15 years of observations by the Japanese radio astronomy project VERA, according to an announcement released Thursday from the National Observatory of Japan. VERA is short for VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry and refers to the mission’s array of telescopes, which use Very Long Baseline Interferometry to explore the three-dimensional structure of the Milky Way.

Because the Earth is located inside the Milky Way, it’s difficult to step back and see what the galaxy looks like. To get around this, the project used astrometry, the accurate measurement of the position and motion of objects, to understand the overall structure of the Milky Way and Earth’s place in it.

Nobel Prize in Physics awarded for black hole discoveries that revealed the 'darkest secrets of the universe'
The black hole is known as Sagittarius A* or Sgr A* and is 4.2 million times more massive than our sun. The supermassive hole and its enormous gravitational field governs the orbits of stars at the center of the Milky Way. Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez earned the 2020 Nobel prize for physics for its discovery. There are several types of black holes, and scientists believe the supermassive ones may be connected to the formation of galaxies, as they often exist at the center of the massive star systems — but it’s still not clear exactly how, or which form first.

More precise approach

In August, VERA published its first catalog, containing data for 99 celestial objects. Based on this catalog and recent observations by other groups, astronomers constructed a position and velocity map. From this map, the scientists were able to calculate the center of the galaxy, the point that everything revolves around.

Star merger created rare Blue Ring Nebula

VERA combines data from four radio telescopes across Japan. The observatory said that, when combined, the telescopes were able to achieve a resolution that in theory would allow the astronomers to spot a United States penny placed on the surface of the Moon.

To be clear, the changes don’t mean Earth is plunging toward the black hole, the observatory said. Rather, the map more accurately identifies where the solar system has been all along.

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What was early Earth like? Almost like Venus, research shows

Almost like on Venus
An artistic illustration of Earth today and 4.5 billion years ago. Credit: Tobias Stierli / NCCR PlanetS

A team of international scientists led by ETH researcher Paolo Sossi has gained new insights into Earth’s atmosphere of 4.5 billion years ago. Their results have implications for the possible origins of life on Earth.


Four-and-a-half billion years ago, Earth would have been hard to recognize. Instead of the forests, mountains and oceans that we know today, the surface of our planet was covered entirely by magma—the molten rocky material that emerges when volcanoes erupt. This much the scientific community agrees on. What is less clear is what the atmosphere at the time was like. New international research efforts led by Paolo Sossi, senior research fellow at ETH Zurich and the NCCR PlanetS, attempt to lift some of the mysteries of Earth’s primeval atmosphere. The findings were published today in the journal Science Advances.

Making magma in the laboratory

“Four-and-a-half billion years ago, the magma constantly exchanged gasses with the overlying atmosphere,” Sossi begins to explain. “The air and the magma influenced each other. So, you can learn about one from the other.”

To learn about Earth’s primeval atmosphere, which was very different from what it is today, the researchers therefore created their own magma in the laboratory. They did so by mixing a powder that matched the composition of Earth’s molten mantle and heating it. What sounds straightforward required the latest technological advances, as Sossi points out: “The composition of our mantle-like powder made it difficult to melt—we needed very high temperatures of around 2,000° Celsius.”

That required a special furnace, which was heated by a laser and within which the researchers could levitate the magma by letting streams of gas mixtures flow around it. These gas mixtures were plausible candidates for the primeval atmosphere that, as 4.5 billion years ago, influenced the magma. Thus, with each mixture of gasses that flowed around the sample, the magma turned out a little different.

Almost like on Venus
The laser-heated aerodynamic levitation furnace which Sossi’s group used in the experiments. Credit: IPGP

“The key difference we looked for was how oxidized the iron within the magma became,” Sossi explains. In less accurate words: how rusty. When iron meets oxygen, it oxidizes and turns into what we commonly refer to as rust. Thus, when the gas mixture that the scientists blew over their magma contained a lot of oxygen, the iron within the magma became more oxidized.

This level of iron oxidation in the cooled-down magma gave Sossi and his colleagues something that they could compare to naturally occurring rocks that make up Earth’s mantle today—so-called peridotites. The iron oxidation in these rocks still has the influence of the primeval atmosphere imprinted within it. Comparing the natural peridotites and the ones from the lab therefore gave the scientists clues about which of their gas mixtures came closest to Earth’s primeval atmosphere.

A new view of the emergence of life

“What we found was that, after cooling down from

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Earth just got 2,000 light-years closer to Milky Way’s supermassive black hole

At the center of the our galaxy there’s a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. It has a mass roughly 4 million times that of our sun.



Earth is a little closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way than we believed. NAOJ


© Provided by CNET
Earth is a little closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way than we believed. NAOJ

Great news! It turns out scientists have discovered that we’re 2,000 light-years closer to Sagittarius A* than we thought.

This doesn’t mean we’re currently on a collision course with a black hole. No, it’s simply the result of a more accurate model of the Milky Way based on new data.

Over the last 15 years, a Japanese radio astronomy project, VERA, has been gathering data. Using a technique called interferometry, VERA gathered data from telescopes across Japan and combined them with data from other existing projects to create what is essentially the most accurate map of the Milky Way yet. 



Earth is a little closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way than we believed.


© NAOJ

Earth is a little closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way than we believed.


By pinpointing the location and velocity of around 99 specific points in our galaxy, VERA has concluded that the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A, at the center of our galaxy, is actually 25,800 light-years from Earth — almost 2,000 light-years closer than what we previously believed. 

In addition, the new model calculates Earth is moving faster than we believed. Older models clocked Earth’s speed at 220 kilometers (136 miles) per second, orbiting around the galaxy’s centre. VERA’s new model has us moving at 227 kilometers (141 miles) per second.

Not bad!

VERA is now hoping to increase the accuracy of its model by increasing the amount of points it’s gathering data from by expanding into EAVN (East Asian VLBI Network) and gathering data from a larger suite of radio telescopes located throughout Japan, Korea and China. 

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Share Prices Rocket As The Rare Earth Rush Is Rebooted

From the frozen hills of Greenland to the outback of Australia a rush has restarted for rare earths, a family of metals essential in electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy systems.

Sidelined for much of the last 10 months by the Covid-19 pandemic the re-awakening of interest in rare earths has seen leading producers and explorers enjoy sharp share price rises along with forecasts of a doubling in the price of some rare earths.

The investment case for rare earths has traditionally been based on the need to break the near-monopoly control of the industry held by Chinese producers.

That concern remains a factor, especially for European and U.S. car makers who need long-life magnets made from two of the metals, neodymium and praseodymium, in their increasing output of EVs.

But the new price-driving factor is a developing shortage, even from China, caused by confidence in the start next year of strong global economic growth and a lack of investment in exploration and mine development.

A measure of investor interest can be seen in robust investor support this week for a $22 million (A$30 million) capital raising by an Australian company planning to develop a rare earth mine in Greenland

The funds will be used by Greenland Minerals to accelerate work on its Kvanefjeld rare earth project in the south-east of the island which is an autonomous territory of Denmark.

Increasing confidence in the mine development plan of Greenland Minerals has seen the company’s share price double since mid-year.

It’s a similar story at Lynas Corporation, an established Australian producer of rare earths and the biggest supplier of the metals outside China.

Since slumping to mid-March low of 75c (A$1.02) Lynas has risen by more than 250% to $2.65 (A$3.64), partly because it has resolved an impasse with the government of Malaysia over the treatment of rare earth ore and partly because of rapid growth in demand for non-Chinese supplies of the essential metals.

UBS, an investment bank, is confident that demand for EVs will trigger a substantial increase in rare earth prices over the next few years, especially for neodymium and praseodymium (commonly traded as NdPr) which could double from $50/kilogram to $100/kg by 2024.

To meet rare earth demand in EVs, which require about five-times as much rare earth material as vehicles with a combustion engine, an estimate which means the supply for NdPr needs to triple by 2030.

“We do not think the market has created sufficient incentives for supply growth to triple by 2030,” UBS said in a research note on Lynas.

“We estimate that an incentive price for NdPr is approximately $60/kg. Prices have

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Earth just got 2,000 light years closer to Milky Way’s supermassive black hole

20201126-mizusawa-fig

Earth is a little closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way than we believed.


NAOJ

At the centre of the our galaxy there’s a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. It has a mass roughly 4 million times that of our Sun.

Great news! It turns out scientists have discovered that we’re 2,000 light years closer to Sagittarius A* than we thought.

This doesn’t mean we’re currently on a collision course with a black hole. No, it’s simply the result of a more accurate model of the Milky Way based on new data.

Over the last 15 years, a Japanese radio astronomy project, VERA, has been gathering data. Using a technique called interferometry, VERA gathered data from telescopes across Japan and combined them with data from other existing projects to create what is essentially the most accurate map of the Milky Way yet. 

By pinpointing the location and velocity of around 99 specific points in our galaxy, VERA has concluded the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A, at the centre of our galaxy, is actually 25,800 light-years from Earth — almost 2,000 light years closer than what we previously believed. 

In addition, the new model calculates Earth is moving faster than we believed. Older models clocked Earth’s speed at 220 kilometers (136 miles) per second, orbiting around the galaxy’s centre. VERA’s new model has us moving at 227 kilometres (141 miles) per second.

Not bad!

VERA is now hoping to increase the accuracy of its model by increasing the amount of points it’s gathering data from. By expanding into EAVN (East Asian VLBI Network) and gathering data from a larger suite of radio telescopes located throughout Japan, Korea and China. 

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2,690-Foot Asteroid Makes Close Approach To Earth On Thanksgiving Weekend

KEY POINTS

  • A massive asteroid will pass by Earth Sunday at 1:08 a.m. EST, according to NASA’s CNEOS
  • The space rock is estimated to be as massive as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 2,690 feet
  • The giant asteroid will zip past Earth harmlessly and is not included in the ESA’s Risk List

Passing by this Thanksgiving weekend is a rare 2,690-foot asteroid — a memorable way to mark this year’s holiday amid the pandemic.

Data gathered by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies showed that an asteroid nearly as massive as the Burj Khalifa is expected to zip past Earth Sunday at 1:08 a.m. EST.

The giant asteroid, identified as 153201 (2000 WO107), is the biggest among the several near-Earth asteroids (NEA) that will make close approaches to Earth this week. If the visual of the Burj Khalifa (2,720 feet) in Dubai is not enough to give an idea about the space rock’s size, imagine stacking two Empire State Buildings (1,250 feet) on top of each other.

A 2,690-foot asteroid hurtling toward the planet certainly isn’t a pleasant thought to have during the holidays, especially if one considers the damage it could potentially cause if it crashes on Earth. However, the CNEOS has confirmed that the asteroid will pass by harmlessly when it makes its flyby in a few days.

The asteroid has not been included in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Risk List and is also not a part of the space agency’s Priority List, which means it doesn’t pose a threat to Earth.

The closest distance asteroid 153201 (2000 WO107) will get is about 2.6 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) away from the surface of the planet, according to the CNEOS’ Close Approach Data Table.

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Small-Body Database Browser said the space rock was discovered about 20 years ago on Nov. 29, 2000.

The NEA is classified as an Aten asteroid, which means it has an Earth-crossing orbit that intersects with that of the planet at certain points. Aten asteroids have a higher chance of making a close approach to Earth due to the shape of their orbits. 

CNEOS is responsible for predicting near-Earth objects’ (NEO) close approaches with Earth. Continuously making calculations on different asteroid diameters, impact risks and statistics, the CNEOS publishes its findings on its website to inform the public about any updates concerning NEOs.

Burj Khalifa Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, is located outside of the Dubai Mall. Photo: Reuters

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New Supersonic Travel Options Emerge On Earth And Mars

Supersonic flight is suddenly a hot topic again, with Aerion Supersonic and Spire Global jointly announcing new technology to reduce high-altitude contrails on a new supersonic commercial aircraft.

Plane contrails are a known contributor to global warming and Spire plans to use its network of satellites to make the best predictions of flight paths to reduce contrail formation. The partnership will “increase fuel conservation, improve operational efficiencies, and reduce the environmental footprint” of supersonic technology overall, said Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire Global, in a statement.

The news comes amid a slew of supersonic aircraft announcements in the last few weeks, including startup Hermeus raising $16 million in a Series A fundraiser, and Boom Supersonic announcing a new collaboration with Collins Aerospace for its own supersonic jet. Virgin Galactic also has a supersonic flying vehicle under consideration.

It’s exciting to think of fleets of supersonic jets once again crossing Earth’s sky as the Concorde once did, but what is the implication for travel on other planets?

We already have plans to go supersonic on Mars in the coming months. NASA’s Perseverance rover will need to slow down considerably as it enters the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 mph (5.4 kilometers per second) to safely touch down on the surface a few minutes later. (Watch for that landing in February 2021.)

So NASA and its partners made a parachute that is up for the task. In 2018, the parachute testing on Earth broke a world record by inflating faster than any other in history: the parachute went from a solid cylinder to full inflation in only four-tenths of a second. “Mars 2020 will be carrying the heaviest payload yet to the surface of Mars, and like all our prior Mars missions, we only have one parachute and it has to work,” said John McNamee, project manager of Mars 2020 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement at the time.

So let’s break down the benefits. On Earth, supersonic travel by jet will allow passengers to fly between destinations in perhaps two hours or so, faster than today’s typical ocean crossing of roughly six hours over the Atlantic. And when we’re ready to bring humans to Mars, supersonic parachutes will allow us to bring big cargo loads to the Red Planet — like people, equipment and vehicles.

But could we be cruising the Red Planet in supersonic speed jet in a century or two? Before we can imagine that, we need to make sure we can fly smaller vehicles. And guess what, Perseverance does have a flight test planned.

Assuming Perseverance makes it to the surface, riding on its belly will be a little helicopter known as Ingenuity. NASA wants Ingenuity to be the first controlled flying vehicle on Mars. No, it won’t be a supersonic vehicle

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Asteroid samples sealed up for return to Earth

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.

NASA attempts first ever mission to retrieve sample from asteroid

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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.

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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.”



a satellite in space: 102020-rex.jpg


© NASA
102020-rex.jpg



a close up of a box: Two shots from the OSIRIS-REx probe showing its TAGSAM sample collector, loaded with small rocks and soil from the surface of the asteroid Bennu, being mounted inside a protective capsule for return to Earth in 2023. / Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin


© Provided by CBS News
Two shots from the OSIRIS-REx probe showing its TAGSAM sample collector, loaded with small rocks and soil from the surface of the asteroid Bennu, being mounted inside a protective capsule for return to Earth in 2023. / Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

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

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NASA secures sample of asteroid Bennu to send home to Earth

NASA’s asteroid chaser Osiris-Rex completed a key part of its mission last week by managing to nab rocks from the surface of the potentially hazardous space rock Bennu. The sample was so abundant it started leaking into space, prompting an early stow maneuver the mission team reported on Thursday was successful.



The spacecraft's sampling arm, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, over the target sample site during a dress rehearsal in April. NASA


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The spacecraft’s sampling arm, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, over the target sample site during a dress rehearsal in April. NASA

The spacecraft traveled over 200 million miles and four years to briefly bump into Bennu, blast it with compressed gas and collect bits of its surface. On Oct. 21, the space agency shared the first batch of images from the daring operation, revealing a delicate yet explosive moment between rock and robot.

When the spacecraft’s robotic sampling arm, named Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism,  or Tagsam, touched down on Bennu, it performed what amounts to a cosmic pickpocketing maneuver.  Mission planners expected that the total time of contact between the arm and asteroid would be less than 16 seconds. When preliminary data was released, it showed that the period of contact was just six seconds, with much of the sample collection happening in only the first three.



Touchdown!


© NASA

Touchdown!


The spacecraft, which operates largely autonomously due to the 18-minute communications delay with mission control on Earth, fired a canister of gas through Tagsam that disrupted the surface of Bennu and forced a sample into the arm’s collector head. 

Photos taken of the head on Oct. 22 showed that so much sample was collected that some larger rocks seemed to fail to make it all the way inside, wedging a mylar flap meant to seal the container partially open, allowing some small bits of dust and pebbles to escape back out into space. 



Captured by the spacecraft's SamCam camera Oct. 22, this series of three images shows the sampler head on Osiris-Rex is full of rocks and dust collected from the surface of Bennu. They also show that some of these particles are slowly escaping the sampler head. NASA


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Captured by the spacecraft’s SamCam camera Oct. 22, this series of three images shows the sampler head on Osiris-Rex is full of rocks and dust collected from the surface of Bennu. They also show that some of these particles are slowly escaping the sampler head. NASA

Sample stowage was originally scheduled for Nov. 2, but NASA instead moved the multiple-day procedure up to Tuesday.

“The abundance of material we collected from Bennu made it possible to expedite our decision to stow,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, in a statement. 

NASA successfully lands Osiris-Rex spacecraft on an asteroid in deep space

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Osiris-Rex tags a boulder

As the spacecraft approached and then spent two years orbiting and surveying Bennu, it became clear this tiny world is different from what scientists expected. The team hoped to find a number of sandy surfaces ideal for sampling, but it turns out Bennu is a rubble pile, with a rugged terrain strewn with boulders. 

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Around 24 hours after the operation, NASA shared the first images of the touchdown operation captured by the spacecraft. The Tagsam moves into position and its

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Asteroid samples successfully sealed in capsule to return to Earth, NASA says

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.”

102920-tag1.jpg
Two shots from the OSIRIS-REx probe showing its TAGSAM sample collector, loaded with small rocks and soil from the surface of the asteroid Bennu, being mounted inside a protective capsule for return to Earth in 2023.

NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin


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

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