A composite picture of Bennu taken from OSIRIS-REx at a distance of 330 km. NASA / Goddard / University of…
NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona
Officially known as 101955 Bennu, the asteroid is about the size of Empire State Building and has an “insignificant likelihood of affecting the earth”. In fact, Bennu ranks others on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale – effectively the Earth’s ranking of “what will wipe us all out”?
So if we had a chance to visit it, would we surely send a ragtag made by miners to blow it up, instead of traveling seven years to collect some space dirt from the top?
But keep in mind, this is NASA we’re talking about!
In this week’s episode of Watch This Space, we look at OSIRIS-REX-NASA’s mission to contact Bennu (for all five seconds) to collect asteroid dust from the surface and bring it back to earth.
It can be a long way to go too much dust, but this material (called regolith) can tell us a lot. According to NASA, asteroids are basically “residual rubbish from the solar system’s formation process”, so their composition can shed light on our history, how it was formed, and even how planets the Earth came to.
OSIRIS-REX (which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification) arrived at Bennu on December 3rd and will spend a little less than a year that measures the asteroid for a suitable space to move down. When it’s the perfect spot, spacecraft will come into contact with the surface of the asteroid for about five seconds, send an explosion of nitrogen to disrupt dust and pebbles on the surface to catch the spacecraft and return to the ground.
At the end of its seven-year mission, NASA researchers will be able to investigate this material and learn more about where we came from, and possibly even find “molecular precursors of the origin of life and the ocean of the earth”, according to NASA.
To learn more about the other incredibly cool stuff that NASA and other space organizations are up to, check out the entire Watch This Space series on YouTube.
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