If space comes to us that way, why would we need sample-return missions?

  1. 9 months ago


    8 Jul 2016 Administrator

    Sample-return missions indeed have a substantial cost, and their combined crops will never compete with the mass of meteorites in Museum collections, however rare these are in an absolute sense. Yet meteorites as they are found on Earth have no context and one cannot tell their parent body (whether an asteroid, a comet or a planet). Even in cases where their falls have been recorded by cameras, the extrapolated pre-impact orbit has usually been modified by interactions with planets to such an extent that their original provenance is irreversibly blurred. This is a serious obstacle to decipher the clues that meteorites contain about the history of the solar system. Imagine trying to reconstitute the history of Rome on the sole basis of mislabelled ruin debris! But this will change with sample-return missions. They will provide us with samples from duly identified celestial bodies, with no alteration from interplanetary transit or terrestrial sojourn. Not only will we gain a precious and unparalleled knowledge of the specific bodies sampled, also we will be able to understand how laboratory analyses of samples correspond to remote observations of their parent bodies. That way, we will be able to make the link between meteorites and other celestial bodies that are only remotely observed. A few sample-return missions will thus enable us to exploit the full potential of our meteorite collections. It may also well be that some returned samples will turn out to be completely unlike any known meteorite, that is, that the mission was actually the only mean to sample the celestial body in question, and glean qualitatively new insights on the solar system!


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