NASA Probe OSIRIS-REx Briefly Touches Asteroid Bennu to Collect Rare Samples

Right after a four-12 months journey, NASA’s robotic spacecraft OSIRIS-REx briefly touched down on asteroid Bennu’s boulder-strewn floor on Tuesday to gather rock and dust samples in a precision procedure 200 million miles (330 million kilometers) from Earth.

The so-called “Contact-And-Go” or TAG manoeuvre was managed by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, exactly where at 6:12 pm (2212 GMT) an announcer claimed: “Touchdown declared. Sampling is in development,” and researchers erupted in celebration.

The historic mission was 12 yrs in the producing and rested on a critical 16 2nd time period where by the spacecraft executed a sensitive autonomous manoeuvre to grab its cherished payload: at least 60 grams (two ounces), or a candy-bar sized volume of regolith that researchers hope will help unravel the origins of our photo voltaic technique.

If OSIRIS-REx productively comes home in September 2023, it will have collected the premier sample returned from place considering the fact that the Apollo era.

“We consider we truly could possibly be coming again with a little one image of what the solar technique was like, of what our chemistry was like, billions of yrs back,” NASA scientist Michelle Thaller explained.

“We’re looking for our personal origins out there, and which is why we’ve absent so much to carry a bit of Bennu back.”

The spacecraft, about the measurement of a massive van, slowed down to a crawl of just 10 centimetres (four inches) per 2nd on the remaining stage of its descent into the Nightingale crater on the north pole of the asteroid, which is 490 meters (1,600 feet) in diameter. 

For size comparison, that is just a little bit more substantial than the Empire Condition creating.

OSIRIS-REx eased its robotic arm down to a focus on zone just 8 meters (26 toes) in diameter, then fired pressurized nitrogen to agitate the surface product and capture its sample.

Then the spacecraft fired its thrusters to back away from Bennu’s surface area to total what experts playfully explained as a “boop.”

Mission command and the public discovered of all this about 18.5 minutes later on than it basically happened due to the fact of the time it normally takes for the indicators to return from the room rock, which for the most portion orbits involving Venus and Mars.

The very first images will only be offered Wednesday as soon as the probe is even further absent and has a higher details transmission fee.

We will have to hold out right up until Saturday to uncover out if OSIRIS-REx has succeeded in collecting the ideal volume of dust.

Researchers want at least 60 grams but the spacecraft is capable of finding up as substantially as two kilograms, or five pounds.

If it turns out the spacecraft didn’t collect enough, it will have one more go on January 12, 2021, at a backup web-site which is another comparatively boulder-cost-free space close to the rock’s equator.

‘Rosetta stone’

Experts are intrigued in analysing the composition of the asteroids in the solar program for the reason that they are produced of the exact same components that fashioned the planets.

It can be “just about a Rosetta stone, a thing that is out there and tells the heritage of our whole Earth, of the photo voltaic technique during the last billions of several years,” said NASA’s main scientist, Thomas Zurbuchen.

Laboratories on Earth will be equipped to have out a great deal far more significant powered analysis of their physical and chemical attributes, stated NASA’s planetary science division director Lori Glaze.

Not all samples will be analysed instantly, like all those introduced back again from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, which NASA is nonetheless opening up 50 years afterwards.

NASA selected this distinct asteroid due to the fact it is conveniently close and also ancient: scientists calculated that it fashioned in the initially 10 million several years of our photo voltaic system’s record, 4.5 billion yrs back.

Immediately after OSIRIS-REx attained the rock at the conclusion of 2018, the project’s crew was astonished to acquire images demonstrating that it was covered with pebbles and boulders sometimes 30 meters significant.

Past 12 months, Japan became the to start with country to touch an asteroid after its Hayabusa2 probe gathered some dust from Ryugu, and is now on its way house.

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