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Rocket! Guitar! Drums!

The Atlas V rocket carrying the OSIRIS-REx mission toward asteroid Bennu. I went to Florida to watch the launch on September 8, 2016. And it was AWESOME. [Credit: moi]

The Atlas V rocket carrying the OSIRIS-REx mission toward asteroid Bennu. I went to Florida to watch the launch on September 8, 2016. And it was AWESOME. [Credit: moi]

I promise I didn’t mean to go six months without updating the blog.

On the other hand, as I’ve noted before, I don’t get paid for blogging, so not blogging generally means I’m busy with work. That’s what’s happened here: I’ve had a very busy year so far, one that’s kept me mostly out of trouble (both the fun and the bad kinds).

However, I’m dusting off the blog now for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I’m working again on some projects I set aside during the busy-ness, which may be of some interest to my regular readers; more on those in later posts. The second is that I miss doing the kind of explanatory science writing that works very well on a blog, but which very few publications are willing to shell out for. Whether I’ll post frequently again is another question, and I won’t promise anything.

The prototype of the snorfler, the business end of the sampling arm on OSIRIS-REx. This device will pump nitrogen gas into the dust and rock on the asteroid's surface and collect what gets dislodged for return to Earth. [Credit: moi]

The prototype of the snorfler, the business end of the sampling arm on OSIRIS-REx. This device will pump nitrogen gas into the dust and rock on the asteroid’s surface and collect what gets dislodged for return to Earth. [Credit: moi]

Meanwhile, I traveled to Florida last week to watch the launch of the OSIRIS-REx mission out of Cape Canaveral. The mission consists of a robotic probe which will orbit the Sun over the next two years, slowly matching trajectory with an asteroid called Bennu. At the asteroid, OSIRIS-REx will study the asteroid’s surface, shape, and gravitational properties, then zoom in within 30 feet of the surface. The robot has a long sampling arm, which it will extend to touch the asteroid, huff out nitrogen gas, and snorfle up some of the regolith, the small chunks of rock and dust that likely make up Bennu’s outermost parts. Then, after completing its studies and getting into position again, it will come back to Earth, bringing what it snorfled up for study in labs here. You can read more about the mission in my short article for New Scientist.

The launch itself was thrilling. It was only my second launch viewing, and my first from Kennedy Spaceflight Center. (The first was the launch of the LADEE probe to the Moon, out of NASA’s Wallops facility in Virginia, which was a very different type of rocket!) The weather was perfect, and as media I got to watch from the causeway, across about 3 miles of open water. It made for a very wonderful few days, mingling with scientists and seeing a few sights around Cape Canaveral.

Here’s a video diary from my friend and sometime collaborator Fraser Cain (impresario of Universe Today), showing the launch, the rocket, and a lot of other fun NASA stuff. The launch itself is at 10:49, but please watch the whole thing.

Warning: I’m in the video, explaining the science part of the OSIRIS-REx mission. My part starts at 7:08, or use this link.


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