Discovered in 1999, it is a “debris pile asteroid,” meaning it is a large jumble of space rocks pressed together by gravity. These rocks are believed to have separated from a larger body, and are about 4.6 billion years old, meaning they formed at around the same time as the solar system.
More importantly, the asteroid is known to be rich in carbon-based materials Clay minerals that contain water – suggesting that liquid water once existed on the larger body from which Bennu formed.
The researchers say this means that the samples currently hurtling towards Earth could help scientists understand what ingredients went into making planets including our own, and how these materials came together to form environments suitable for life.
But there are other reasons to study Bennu. Among them, researchers want to better understand how to predict and defend Earth against potential asteroid strikes — and Bennu poses a risk of a future strike.
Classified as a “potential danger,” Bennu orbits our sun every 1.2 years and approaches Earth every six years. But while NASA has said there is no chance of it colliding with Earth during the mid-21st century, after that point – and until at least the year 2300 – there is a 1 in 1,750 chance of colliding with our planet.
While we wait for the capsule containing pieces of space rock from the asteroid Bennu to arrive, it’s worth looking back at how we got to this point and the amazing achievement of the scientists involved.
The entire mission name is full of words: Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security Regolith Explorer. But in short, it might be better described as a smash-and-grab space game.
The target, Bennu, is a pile of rubble held together loosely by gravity. It is the same width as the Empire State Building, and orbits around Earth, passing by our planet every six years or so.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft, about the size of a transit truck, blasted toward Bennu in September 2016, and arrived at the asteroid two years later, in December 2018. Once in orbit, it flew just a mile above the asteroid, capturing a record of the planetary body’s closest orbit. By spacecraft – it began mapping Bennu, allowing scientists to choose the best location to retrieve samples. It was decided that the destination would be the asteroid’s Nightingale crater.
The sample capsule carrying rocks and dust from Bennu is expected to land near Salt Lake City at 10:55 a.m. ET today.
according to NASAOnce the Osiris-Rex spacecraft reaches 63,000 miles from the Earth’s surface on Sunday, or about a third of the distance from Earth to the Moon, it will launch the sample capsule. Release time will be 6:42 AM ET.
The capsule travels at a speed of 27,650 miles per hour is expected To enter Earth’s atmosphere at about 10:42 a.m. ET off the coast of Northern California at an altitude of about 83 miles above the surface.
The capsule is then scheduled to land 13 minutes later at 10:55 a.m. ET at an area located at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Area near Salt Lake City.
Members of the mission team are scheduled to retrieve the sample once it lands “to ensure that the sample is not contaminated due to exposure to the Earth’s environment.” He said NASA.
They will then transport it via helicopter to a temporary clean room to prepare for its transfer to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday.
Good morning US readers and good evening UK readers,
A sample of the prospective asteroid from NASA’s seven-year Osiris-Rex mission is scheduled to enter Earth’s atmosphere today.
Earlier this morning, at 6:42 ET/11:42 GMT, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft released a capsule containing samples of debris and dust it collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.
This capsule is now hurtling towards Earth at a speed of about 27,650 miles per hour.
About 20 minutes after the capsule was launched, the spacecraft turned itself around and lifted away from Earth to begin a new mission to explore another asteroid, known as Apophis, which will take about six years to reach.
Right now, we’re anxiously awaiting the arrival of Bennu’s samples to Earth, and they’re expected to land around 10:55 AM ET/15:55 GMT.
The sample from Bennu “serves as a time capsule from the early days of our solar system and will help us answer big questions about the origins of life and the nature of asteroids.” He said NASA.
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