Asteroid Bennu Has Got a Visitor from Planet Earth

OSIRIS REx

OSIRIS REx

OSIRIS-REx was within 12 miles of Bennu's surface - about the distance between the White House and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, which manages the spacecraft. The image, which was taken by the PolyCam camera, shows Bennu at 300 pixels and has been stretched to increase contrast between highlights and shadows.

"During our approach toward Bennu, we have taken observations at much higher resolution than were available from Earth", said OSIRIS-REx project manager Dr.

"Osiris-Rex" ultimate goal is to bring back a regolith sample of at least 2.1 ounces. In October 2018 OSIRIS-REx began a series of braking maneuvers to slow its approach from 1,800 kilometers per hour down to essentially nothing.

Bennu is also interesting to NASA for a separate reason - there's a small chance it could cause us major problems in the 22nd Century.

It is the first US attempt to gather asteroid samples for return to Earth, something only Japan has accomplished so far.

Artist's conception of OSIRIS-REx collecting space rocks on Bennu.

Back at the University of Arizona, which is leading the mission, a crowd watching at the Stevie Eller Dance Theater broke into cheers. "To Bennu and back!"

The spacecraft design, a 4,650 pound craft when fueled, draws on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter heritage and was built in their Denver facility. Indeed, OSIRIS-REx isn't even in orbit around the 1,650-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu yet; it's now flying alongside the asteroid, just beginning to take its measure in detail. Afterward, 75% of the returned sample will remain at NASA's Johnson Space Flight Center so it can be used for more research by scientists from around the world.

About the size of a large vehicle, the spacecraft will shadow the asteroid for a year, before scooping up some gravel for return to Earth in 2023. "It will also land on Bennu midway through its mission and collect up to 2kg of material for return to Earth by September 2023". It's a time capsule of what happened as the solar system was forming.

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A NASA mission to an asteroid arrives at its destination today.

Meanwhile, a Japanese probe is circling an asteroid named Ryugu, about double the size of Bennu, with a plan to bring home some specks of space dust. The sample container would break loose and head toward Earth in 2021.

The spacecraft is to investigate the asteroid, which is a third of a mile wide, and is thought to be rich in organic molecules dating from the start of the solar system. If needed, it can make up to three sampling attempts, according to Asteroid Mission.

On December 1 it was close enough to Bennu, about 35 km, that the asteroid's gravity dominated over the Sun's. That means they could smack Earth years from now. It launched in September 2016 and will spend two years up close and personal with Bennu.

'Analyzing a sample from Bennu will help planetary scientists better understand the role asteroids may have played in delivering life-forming compounds to Earth, ' NASA explains.

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

The American space agency's Osiris-Rex probe has drawn up alongside the Asteroid Bennu after a two-year, two-billion-km journey from Earth.

Both the spacecraft and the asteroid's names come from Egyptian mythology.

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