Asteroid Bennu Has Got a Visitor from Planet Earth

Asteroid Bennu Has Got a Visitor from Planet Earth

The asteroid may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to NASA. First images of the asteroid from the spacecraft's perspective have appeared as it got closer and closer. The aircraft positioned itself within 12 miles (19 kilometers) of the diamond-shaped space rock. It is not impossible that asteroids like it delivered the building blocks of life to the early Earth - the mission could help us investigate this theory. To that end, the College of Optical Sciences, which helped design some of OSIRIS-REx's cameras in conjunction with the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and Steward Observatory, recently received a $20 million endowment.

Bennu, a rocky mass roughly half a kilometre wide and shaped like a giant acorn, orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth and is thought to be rich in carbon-based organic molecules dating back to the earliest days of the solar system.

Engineer Tim Linn explains how the Osiris-Rex will suck up asteroid dust.

After a two-year chase, a NASA spacecraft arrived Monday at the ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years.

Meanwhile, the sample will plummet back down to Earth in what looks like a tiny Apollo capsule, landing somewhere in the Utah desert to be collected by curious NASA scientists.

Studying the sample in terrestrial labs, scientists hope to uncover clues about the birth of the planets and the origins of Earth's water and life.

Why Did NASA Send OSIRIS-REx to Bennu?

To their delight, newly acquired close-ups of the asteroid closely match their predictions.

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In mid-2020, scientists will direct Osiris-Rex to drop down to the object and grab at least 60g of regolith, or "top soil".

Orbiting asteroids (and rendezvousing with them) isn't easy-these rocks have very little gravity, and several asteroid-orbiting missions have run into issues.

OSIRIS-REx and its instruments. Even the faint pressure of sunlight warming the spacecraft can create sufficient thrust to warp its orbit. This effect is a force that acts on a rotating body in space, caused by the uneven release of heat from the surface of the asteroid. When will asteroid hit Earth? Along the way, the spacecraft performed a flyby of Earth on September 22, 2017 for a gravity assist to place the craft on its final trajectory to Bennu. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation. Lauretta said there was a chance of sending the carrier spacecraft on an extended mission after that, but for now, he wants the team to stay focused on the primary mission. This will help them determine future orbits and where on the asteroid to collect the sample, Coralie Adams, OSIRIS-REx flight navigator, said during the NASA press event.

The craft will obtain somewhere between 2 ounces and 4.4 pounds of soil sample from the surface of Bennu using a robotic arm that will blast the surface with a puff of nitrogen gas and collect the pieces that fly off. Then it must turn around and retrace its path back home.

The spacecraft will spend the next year completing a detailed survey of the surface of Bennu (492 metres in diameter) - including locating the most suitable landing sites.

Our @OSIRISREx mission reached asteroid Bennu, where it will spend nearly a year mapping and studying to find a safe location to collect a sample. For the asteroid, the name symbolizes the lessons it could have for researchers. Afterward, 75% of the returned sample will remain at NASA's Johnson Space Flight Center so it can be used for more research by scientists from around the world.

Asked how he was feeling at the moment of arrival, principal investigator Dante Lauretta tweeted, "relieved, proud and anxious to start exploring!"

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