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Science

NASA’s Asteroid Mission Packs Away Its Cargo. Next Stop: Earth.

As the canister was moved during the stowage steps, some more of the sample floated away. Dr. Lauretta estimated that tens of grams were lost.“We’ve come to realize that the particle loss, which continued throughout the entire stow, was what I would call a saltshaker effect,” Dr. Lauretta said. “It’s sloshing around as a result of that and a few of the particles, a small fraction of the collected sample, is escaping.”After the canister was lowered into place, the top of the return capsule swung down like a clamshell and was held closed by two latches, sealing the sample container inside and preventing the loss of any more material.Along the way, Dr. Lauretta said visual inspection of the collection canister confirmed there was about 400 grams, or close to a pound, of material inside. Bu...

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Science

There’s Water Ice on the Moon, and in More Places Than NASA Once Thought

Future astronauts headed to the moon may have an easier time finding and digging up frozen water than had been thought.Scientists reported on Monday that in addition to big, frigid, deep, potentially treacherous craters in the moon’s polar regions, smaller and shallower depressions in the same areas may also be cold enough to hold onto water ice for millions, if not billions, of years.These small water ice deposits could be a “real game changer,” said Paul O. Hayne, a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado. “It could make it much more accessible to future astronauts and rover missions.”The presence of ice on the moon has made the moon’s South Pole a desired destination for a number of robotic missions by NASA, China and other space programs.Such ...

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Science

NASA Mission Springs a Small Leak After Touching an Asteroid

NASA’s effort to grab a piece of an asteroid on Tuesday may have worked a little too well. The spacecraft, OSIRIS-REX, grabbed so much rock and dirt that some of the material is now leaking back into space.The operation some 200 million miles from Earth on the other side of the sun was “almost too successful,” Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the mission, said during a telephone news conference on Friday. NASA officials worried that without careful effort to secure its samples in the days ahead, the mission could lose much of the scientific payload it traveled for years across the solar system to gather.A few rocks wedged in the robotic probe’s collection mechanism prevented a flap from fully closing. In images taken by the spacecraft, scientists could see bits of asteroid ...

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Science

NASA Touched an Asteroid. How Much Will It Bring Home?

When NASA’s OSIRIS-REX spacecraft touched the surface of an asteroid on Tuesday to gather a sample of rocks and dirt, the operation proceeded smoothly, to the glee of the mission’s operators.“Transcendental,” Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the mission, said moments later. “I mean, I can’t believe we actually pulled this off.”But the biggest question remained unanswered: How much of the asteroid did OSIRIS-REX pick up? Did it manage to gather any samples at all?With the asteroid — a rock named Bennu that is roughly as wide as the Empire State Building is tall — exerting only a wisp of gravitational pull, it was not possible to simply put the sampling container on a scale and weigh it.In addition, the spacecraft could not send back much data as it swooped in for its collect...

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Science

NASA’s OSIRIS-REX Mission to Bennu Asteroid: When to Watch

On Tuesday, a NASA spacecraft, OSIRIS-REX, will attempt to briefly touch an asteroid, Bennu, and suck up some rocks and dirt. If it succeeds, it will bring those materials back to Earth for closer study, potentially unlocking secrets to what the solar system was like when it first formed 4.5 billion years ago.“The asteroids are like time capsules, floating in space, that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said during a news conference on Monday.Many asteroids — including Bennu — cross the orbit of Earth and could collide with our planet someday. A better understanding of these space rocks, which come in many types, could aid humanity’s ability to divert one that might slam into Earth.What is the OSIRI...

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Sports

Jeff Bezos’ Company Is Carrying Cargo to Space. It’s Not Amazon.

West Texas is not quite like the moon. But it can serve as a handy stand-in.On Tuesday, Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, launched — and landed — its small New Shepard rocket and capsule for the 13th time as part of tests to verify safety before any passengers climb aboard.One day, this will be New Shepard’s main business: flying well-to-do people above the 62-mile altitude generally considered the beginning of outer space where they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness as the capsule arcs.Blue Origin is not a new company — Mr. Bezos founded it in 2000 — but for most of its existence, it operated in secret without generating much revenue. Three years ago, Mr. Bezos said he was selling a billion dollars a year in Amazon...

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Sports

Finally, the First Room-Temperature Superconductor

In 2015, Mikhail Eremets, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, reported that hydrogen sulfide — a molecule consisting of two hydrogen atoms and one sulfur atom — turned superconducting at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit when squeezed to about 22 million pounds per square inch. That was a record warm temperature for a superconductor at the time.“That’s, I would say, the game-changing paper that sort of set the tone,” Dr. Dias said.Dr. Eremets and other scientists subsequently discovered that lanthanum hydride — a compound containing hydrogen and lanthanum — reached a superconducting temperature of minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit at ultrahigh pressures.Dr. Dias’s group looked at a mixture of three elements: hydrogen, sulfur and carbon. With three elements, the ...

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Science

Why a Perfect Spiral Football Pass Doesn’t Break the Laws of Physics

They, too, were intrigued.“I played football in New York City a long time ago,” said Dr. Price; he attended Stuyvesant High School, which, like Caltech, is known for its high-achieving academics and not its athletics. “I aspired to be mediocre. Never quite got there.”Dr. Moss was a classmate and teammate of Dr. Gay’s at Caltech. “I couldn’t play anywhere else,” Dr. Moss said. “The coach gave me a red helmet and told everyone in the team, ‘Don’t kill the kid with the red helmet.’ True story.”Dr. Price said he had not thought about this problem until he and Dr. Gay met at a scientific conference and talked about it.“I went on to apply some pretty simple mathematics and do what physicists do," Dr. Price said. “Which is to try and throw away all of the irrelevant details and get the heart o...

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Technology

How a 2nd-Grade Class Sent a Science Experiment to Space

Back in 2015, students in Maggie Samudio’s second-grade class at Cumberland Elementary School in West Lafayette, Ind., were contemplating an offbeat science question: If a firefly went to space, would it still be able to light up as it floated in zero gravity?Ms. Samudio said she would ask a friend of hers, Steven Collicott, an aerospace professor at nearby Purdue University, for the answer.“He teaches a class on zero gravity, and he would be the perfect person to answer the question,” Ms. Samudio recalled in an email.A day later, Dr. Collicott replied, and Ms. Samudio was surprised by his answer: Instead of guessing, why not actually build the experiment and send it to space?Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, was planning to offer th...

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Science

Up Is Down in This Fun Physics Experiment

Sail beneath a levitating sea — upside down?Through a couple of sleights of science, a team of French scientists showed that not only could they make a layer of viscous liquid hover in midair but that a little toy boat would also bob on the bottom side of the liquid layer in the same way that one would normally float on top.“That was a fun experiment,” said Emmanuel Fort, a professor at France’s ESPCI Paris and an author of a paper published this week in the journal Nature that describes this seemingly impossible feat. “Everything worked well. And I’m still amazed by the results.”Usually, a denser liquid sinks to the bottom. That’s why oil floats on water. Even if you first pour a layer of oil into a container and then carefully add water on top, the heavier water will start dripping th...

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