NASA arrives at the asteroid Bennu in search of the largest sample ever taken of a space object of the type
This will be the first time the agency will collect samples of an asteroid and bring it to Earth. The material is expected to come back for analysis in 2023.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft, from the US space agency (Nasa), successfully arrived at the asteroid Bennu late Monday after a two-year mission.
This is the beginning of the collection of surface samples, which will be done until 2020 with the help of equipment sent by astronomers.
The material is expected to reach Earth in 2023 when scientists will analyze the composition and behavior of the space object.
In August of this year, Osiris-Rex approached Bennu and made the first images.
ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years.
The robotic explorer Osiris-Rex pulled within 12 miles (19 kilometers) of the diamond-shaped space rock. It will get even closer in the days ahead and go into orbit around Bennu on December 31. No spacecraft has ever orbited such a small cosmic body.
It is the first US attempt to gather asteroid samples for return to Earth, something only Japan has accomplished so far.
Flight controllers applauded and exchanged high-fives once confirmation came through that Osiris-Rex made it to Bennu – exactly one week after NASA landed a spacecraft on Mars.
“Relieved, proud, and anxious to start exploring!” tweeted lead scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. “To Bennu and back!”
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It was launched in September 2016 and has since been traveling to the asteroid – it was 2 billion km. The probe will observe the surface until 2020 with the help of five instruments and will choose a good spot to collect the samples.
A few minutes before 3:00 p.m. on Monday, NASA began a live broadcast to show the arrival of the mission to the asteroid. At 15:08, the team announced: “we arrived” and celebrated the feat.
Achievement unlocked: “We have arrived!” Our @OSIRISREx mission reached asteroid Bennu, where it will spend almost a year mapping and studying to find a safe location to collect the sample.
The ancient asteroid has been known to scientists since 1999. It has been chosen as the object of research for a variety of reasons, but the most thought-provoking of them is the small chance of colliding with Earth in the next century.
There is a possibility – a chance in 2,700, according to Nasa – that the Bennu hit the Earth in 2135. The name chosen is a tribute to an Egyptian mythological bird that has part of its meaning connected to death.
To monitor and reach more precise conclusions about the possible collision, NASA has created the mission.
“We’re going to go over the North Pole three times, then over the equator and the South Pole,” explained flight navigator Coralie Adam.
“That allows us to not only estimate the mass, the gravity, of Bennu, which will help us design our future orbits downstream; but it also allows us to map the whole surface and build landmarks that we’re going to use to navigate once we get into orbit.”
Bennu will become the smallest object ever orbited by a probe. This should occur in the New Year.
Operating in such a limited gravity field will be a challenge for the probe, and its navigators back on Earth.
Just the heat of the Sun on the side of the spacecraft will cause the probe to emit thermal energy that will change its trajectory ever so slightly, but enough that it must be factored into controllers’ calculations as they plan maneuvers.
Bennu travels around the Sun at a speed of 101,389 km / h and can be observed every six years from Earth. It was chosen from about 500,000 asteroids in the Solar System, is the right size for scientific study and is one of the earliest asteroids known to astronomers.
Bennu is also rich in carbon, the kind of cosmic body that has provided Earth with materials that have propitiated life for billions of years.
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The OSIRIS-REx mission is not the first to visit an asteroid and try to collect a sample. Japan and Europe are the pioneers and have already landed in a comet.
But this is Nasa’s first asteroid sample return mission, and its goal is to bring to Earth the largest sample of the asteroid, in the order of 60 grams.
The American men who walked the Moon during the Apollo era in the 1960s and 1970s collected and carried 382 kg of lunar rock to Earth.