University of Arizona professor leads NASA spacecraft to ancient asteroid

Rodiano Bonacci
Dicembre 6, 2018

The Osiris Rex space probe arrived at its target this morning: The asteroid Bennu. "All the data I collect will help my team pick a spot to sample in 2020". Over the next few weeks OSIRIS-REx will survey Bennu, mapping its surface in detail, then swoop down in January to a distance of a little over a kilometer (!) where it can actually orbit the asteroid. Asteroids are remnants of the building blocks that formed the planets and enabled life. That water or the asteroid's metals might one day serve as useful resources, so space explorers wouldn't need to bring these heavy materials with them.

Accordingly, NASA wants to know exactly what Bennu - and asteroids like it - are composed of, should future engineers have to use lasers or still-unknown technology to deflect the ominous space rock away from our planet.

"Now we're at it again, working with our partners in the USA and Canada to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing back to Earth a piece of the early solar system", Glaze said. The diameter of the asteroid is 0.56 km Experts have discovered it in September 1999.

Japan's Hayabusa mission returned a small sample of an asteroid known as 25143 Itokawa in 2010; a successor craft, Hayabusa-2, arrived at an asteroid called Ryugu previous year and is expected to return a sample in 2020. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that OSIRIS-REx arrived within Bennu's Hill Sphere - the region where the asteroid's gravity field is stronger than the Sun's - on 1 December. The second sequence shows the spacecraft's fly-in approach with Bennu slowly growing larger in the distance. These maneuvers also targeted a trajectory to set up Monday's maneuver, which initiates the first north pole flyover and marks the spacecraft's arrival at Bennu. This means OSIRIS-REx can match its velocity and touch down briefly. "We've been preparing for this moment for years, and we're ready". With two years of flying already under its belt, expectations are high for the probe, but first NASA has to make sure it arrives safe and sound, and that's what today is all about. This is the first NASA mission with the aim of returning an asteroid sample. Bennu is believed to be a well-preserved, ancient asteroid, containing cosmic fragments older than our solar system.

In addition, due to this mission, scientists hope to find out the path of movement of potentially hazardous asteroids. NASA scientists think the 484-meter-wide rock was once part of a much larger asteroid, which suggests was as large as the U.S. state of CT (which is 110 miles wide and 70 miles long), that was blown apart by some colossal collision a billion years ago.

Reuters reported that from that stage, the spacecraft will begin gradually tightening its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet of its surface. Analysis of the regolith will also tell us more about the effects of space weathering on the surface of small bodies from harsh solar radiation.

When OSIRIS-REx begins to orbit Bennu at the end of this month, it will come close to approximately three quarters of a mile (1.25 km) to its surface. He expects those pictures to be back on Earth around 10 December, when a press conference is scheduled at the AGU fall meeting in Washington, D.C. There, the OSIRIS-REx team plans to present early Bennu science results.

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