NASA probe will attempt to grab a piece of an asteroid on Tuesday | NOVA

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OSIRIS-REx can have simply three possibilities to the touch down and snag a pattern of the asteroid Bennu because it zooms by means of area some 204 million miles from Earth.

An artist’s rendering of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft accumulating a pattern from the asteroid Bennu. Picture Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona

On Oct. 20 simply after 6 p.m EDT, NASA will try a daring touch-and-go when its little-probe-that-could, OSIRIS-REx, tries to grab a bit of an asteroid. 

The van-sized probe can have three possibilities to increase its 11-foot arm and contact down on the asteroid Bennu for 5 seconds, blowing pure nitrogen fuel onto the floor and hopefully kicking up a significant quantity of mud and pebbles to seize and convey again dwelling.

The sampler head that may contact the asteroid is a bit bigger than a dinner plate, and the purpose is for it to gather anyplace from 60 grams to 2 kilograms (about 2 ounces to 4.5 kilos) of fabric. If the mission is profitable, scientists will use the samples to be taught extra about each Bennu’s origins—what minerals it’s manufactured from and the place they got here from—and our personal. Bennu is taken into account a “primitive asteroid,” which fashioned one thing like 4.5 billion years in the past and hasn’t modified a lot since then. Meaning we would discover natural molecules on its floor that may educate us concerning the beginnings of life on Earth.

Researchers will even measure the Yarkovsky impact on Bennu, or the best way warmth from the solar can change its path over time. That’s particularly essential as a result of there’s an opportunity that Bennu, which is concerning the measurement of the Empire State Constructing, would possibly crash into Earth someday late subsequent century. Understanding extra about its potential trajectory might assist future missions looking for to cease that sort of impression.

OSIRIS-REx (whose title is an acronym that refers to its analysis objectives) launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in late 2016; orbited the solar for a 12 months; after which met up with Bennu in 2018. Since then, it’s been observing its touring companion intently, mapping Bennu’s floor and practising flybys at completely different—and typically severely low—altitudes. In December 2019, the mission staff selected main and backup websites for landing, two comparatively clean patches inside craters amongst a sea of boulders.

Tuesday’s touch-and-go pattern assortment represents the fruits of all of that effort and exploration. After its try(s) at extraterrestrial darts, the probe will return to orbit earlier than returning dwelling in 2023 with no matter bits of Bennu it managed to seize.

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