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NASA Probe Arrives at Asteroid Bennu Monday

I hope you're not all partied out after the InSight lander's successful touchdown on Mars this week, because there's another…

I hope you’re not all partied out after the InSight lander’s successful touchdown on Mars this week, because there’s another big spaceflight event just around the corner.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe will officially arrive at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu at about 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) on Monday (Dec. 3), ending a 27-month deep-space chase. NASA will mark the event with a special webcast event from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. EST (1645 to 1715 GMT), which you can watch live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV.

The space agency will also provide an “arrival preview program” at 11:15 a.m. EST (1615 GMT). You can catch that here at Space.com as well. [OSIRIS-REx: NASA&#821

7;s Asteroid Sample-Return Mission in Pictures]

The $ 800 million OSIRIS-REx mission launched on Sept. 8, 2016, embarking on a looping towards the 1,640-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu. Upon arrival, the probe will take up a position about 12 miles from the space rock, NASA officials said.

The near-Earth asteroid Bennu, as seen by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe on Nov. 2, 2018, from a distance of about 122 miles (197 kilometers). OSIRIS-REX is scheduled to arrive at Bennu on Dec. 3.

Credit: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

OSIRIS-REX will then fly by Bennu repeatedly over the next four weeks, gathering data that will help mission team members establish the asteroid’s mass. With this information in hand, OSIRIS-REX will slide into the orbit around the space rock on Dec. 31 – Just hours before NASA’s New Horizons probe cruises past the distant object of Ultima Thule, billions of miles from Earth.

The diamond-shaped Bennu will then become the smallest object ever to be banned by a spacecraft.

OSIRIS-REX will study the rock from orbit for the next 18 months or so and then make its way down to Bennu’s surface to grab a sizeable sample of material in mid-2020. The spacecraft will depart the asteroid in March 2021, and the sample will come down to Earth in a special return capsule in September 2023.

Scientists around the world will study this material, looking for clues about the role that carbon-rich asteroids

OSIRIS-REX – which is short for “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer” – will also make significant contributions in other ways. , mission team members have said. For example, the probe’s measurements should help researchers better understand the potential of Bennu-like space rocks. And other data will increase knowledge of how asteroids move through space, which in turn should improve predictions of where dangerous rocks are headed.

Bennu is itself a potentially dangerous asteroid; There is a very small probability that it could hit Earth in the late 22nd century.

OSIRIS-REX is not the only active asteroid sampling mission. Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft is currently orbiting the 3,000-foot-wide (900m) Ryugu, which shares Bennu’s diamond shape. Hayabusa2 will grab a Ryugu sample next year and return it to Earth in late 2020, if all goes according to plan.

Mike Wall’s book about the search for alien life, “ Out There ” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate ) is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us @Spacedotcom or Facebook . Originally published on Space.com .

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