NASA’s aircraft OSIRIS-REx has assuredly accomplished the asteroid 101955 Bennu – which may be on blow course with the Earth – after traveling for just over two years since its launch in September 2016.

This mission, which will bring grains back for us to study on Earth, is latest to return asteroid samples to Earth after the Japanese Space Agency’s missions Hayabusa 1 and 2 and StarDust.

The data will help unveil more about the origins of the solar system and how to assure the Earth from accessible asteroid impact.

The aircraft will spend the next year commutual a abundant survey of the apparent of Bennu (492 meters in diameter) – including assay the most acceptable landing sites.

Once a site is selected, the aircraft will land for about five abnormal to aggregate a sample of the apparent actual using a burst of nitrogen gas to deliver actual from the apparent into the adornment head.

The aircraft has enough gas to attack three sample collections from the surface. This will hopefully accommodate a sample of amid 60g and 2,000g of apparent regolith actual (the layer of actual accoutrement solid rock). It will start branch back to Earth in 2021 – accepting here in 2023.

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Asteroids are actual left over from the early solar system, which means they offer a unique look into its early composition. Bennu orbits the sun amid the Earth and Mars.

Its agreement is of accurate absorption as we already know it is rich in carbon. This means it may accommodate amoebic abstracts that have remained changeless since the accumulation of the solar system.

It is not absurd that asteroids like it delivered the architecture blocks of life to the early Earth – the mission could help us investigate this theory.

Though sample return is a major and circuitous part of this mission, OSIRIS-REx will study other aspects of the asteroid too. During the survey of the apparent the aircraft will also be attractive out for plumes and accustomed satellites orbiting the body.

Instruments on board will allow enable us to analyze altered chemicals on it. This will help award the most absorbing and richest sample sites to a resolution of about two meters.

Secret threat

The asteroid Bennu is of absorption to Earth for addition reason. Bennu may be on blow course with Earth in the future. It is theorized from the study of the orbit of Bennu that force alternation amid the two bodies during a close access to Earth in 2060 (750,000km) will hardly alter its course.

This means there is a accumulative one in 2,700 chance of an Earth impact amid 2175 and 2199.

OSIRIS-REx may be able to aid in preventing such events. One of the thing it will admeasurement is the body’s “Yarkovsky acceleration”. This effect is a force that acts on a alternating body in space, caused by the uneven absolution of heat from the apparent of the asteroid.

Once this is known, it will be accessible to investigate whether we could use this force to change the orbit of Bennu and other aggressive asteroids. For example, it may be accessible to use solar radiation to heat up one side of the rock more than the other – alteration its circling and the orbit trajectory.

The next two years is going to be an agitative one for small body research. This mission will accommodate the most abundant assay of carbon rich asteroids and will accommodate answers about the change of the solar system and our own planet.

Analysis of the regolith will also tell us more about the furnishings of space weathering on the apparent of small bodies from harsh solar radiation.

The accumulating method for the mission is called “Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism”. And touch and go is absolutely what the aircraft must achieve, rather than a full landing.

This will be acutely difficult and we will have to wait a year to see if the new method is successful. Let’s keep our fingers beyond that it all goes according to plan.

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