Nasa deep space probe reaches asteroid deemed potential Earth threat

Federico Mansilla
Diciembre 7, 2018

OSIRIS-REx, launched in September 2016, will come even closer to Bennu in the coming month and spend nearly one year scrutinising the asteroid before select a location that is safe and scientifically valuable to collect the sample.

It took a little over two years and more than two billion kilometers of cruising, but NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made it.

The first spacecraft that NASA sent to collect sample from an asteroid has now arrived at its destination, asteroid Bennu. However, asteroid's negligible gravity is too delicate to sustain OSIRIS-REx in a circular orbit just like the satellite orbits the earth. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission, also named Hayabusa. OSIRIS-REx is an acronym of the mission objectives. We just don't know enough about the surface composition to say for certain. "We've been preparing for this moment for years, and we're ready", emphasized mission principal investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona at Tucson.

It is planned to have the probe fly past Bennu's poles and equator over the next few weeks as it measures the asteroid's spin rate, determines its mass, and defines its shape. This data will be used in the eventual selection of a landing site. The spacecraft will pass just 1.2 miles from Bennu in late December, where it will enter the object's gravitational pull.

Wondering where the OSIRIS-REx name came from?

Scientists estimate there is a one-in-2,700 chance of the asteroid crashing into Earth 166 years from now.

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Artist's depiction of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

The researchers' sneak peek at Bennu could provide scientists with a wealth of information about how the asteroid formed and how its orbit might evolve over time. They may also uncover useful natural resources such as organic molecules and precious metals.

It kicked off its year-long investigation on the carbon-rich asteroid which may impact Earth 200 years away and lend clues to how life evolved in early days of our planet, Xinhua news agency reported. They could bring amino acids to our planet billions of years ago.

Bennu's orbit runs between those of Earth and of Mars instead of in the farther asteroid belt between those of Mars and Jupiter. "These observations have revealed an asteroid that is both consistent with our expectations from ground-based measurements and an exceptionally interesting small world. Now we embark on gaining experience flying our spacecraft about such a small body".

Nasa's deep space probe Osiris-Rex was launched in September 2016. On approach, the spacecraft captured a high-resolution image of its target on October 29, 2018, from a distance of approximately 205 miles (330 km).

"One of the big draws for asteroids is that they're leftovers from the formation of the solar system", said McMahon, a co-investigator on the mission. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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