Live: See NASA’s Bennu asteroid on the Osiris Rex mission

What is the mission of Osiris Rex?

On Tuesday, a NASA spacecraft, Osiris Rex, will try to briefly touch the asteroid Bennu, absorbing some rocks and dirt. If successful, it would bring these materials back to Earth for closer study, which could reveal the secrets of what the Solar System was like when it first formed 4.5 billion years ago.

“Asteroids are like time capsules, floating in space, that could provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Department of Planetary Sciences at NASA, during a press conference on Monday.

Several asteroids – including Benno – cross Earth’s orbit and could collide with our planet one day. A better understanding of these space rocks, which come in many species, could aid humanity’s ability to transform rocks that would otherwise collide with Earth.

OSIRIS-REX is an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security and Regolith Explorer.

Dante Loretta, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and lead investigator for the mission, created the name. He said that while writing down the topics of scientific objectives – origins, spectroscopy, resources and security – he had most of the messages of Osiris, the Egyptian deity who was the master of the underworld but also represented the seeds of regeneration to the new. Life. Then he manipulated the name until he got the acronym he wanted.

The robotic spacecraft was launched in September 2016 and reached Benno in December 2018. Since then, it has been observing the asteroid, and has even documented that it was Releasing debris from its surface into space. The probe did two training methods in preparation for its Tuesday attempt to collect a sample from the surface.

Starting at 5 pm NASA TV It will broadcast coverage of the attempted sample collection from the Lockheed Martin Space Mission Control Center in Littleton, Colorado.

On Wednesday at 5 p.m., the space agency will hold a press conference, also broadcast on NASA TV, to discuss how to make sampling efforts and release close-up images of Pino.

Why did NASA choose to study Benno?

Discovered in 1999, Benno is an asteroid rich in carbon and almost black in color. It is about 1,600 feet wide. This compares to the 1454-foot Empire State Building including the antenna at the top. The carbon-rich material is interesting because asteroids like Bennu might as well be Classified land with the basic building blocks of life.

In a series of research papers published in Science this month, scientists report what they have learned about Benno so far. They found carbonate minerals in some geological features of the asteroid, which typically form in environments that include hot water and carbon dioxide. This indicates that the larger body that the Bennu was once was part of a hot spring or some other kind of extensive hydrothermal system.

Scientists also observed two main types of rocks in Bennu. One dark and rough; The other, less common, is bright and smooth. These differences may reflect that they formed at different depths on the original Bennu’s body, hinting at its geological character.

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Another reason for choosing to study Benno is the risk of it colliding with our planet one day.

Will the asteroid collide with Earth?

Bennu is classified as a near-Earth asteroid, and scientists say there is little chance it will collide with Earth. But even if it does, future generations will have time to prepare.

Benno will make a series of lanes very close to Earth between 2175 and 2199.

“The chance that Benno will impact Earth is only one in 2,700,” said Andrea Reilly, executive director of the upcoming NASA mission program known as the asteroid double re-orientation test.

If humans in the 22nd century were unlucky and forgot that Benno is coming, the asteroid is not large enough to cause planet-wide extinctions. But it would be catastrophic at the point of impact.

Where will the spacecraft land on the asteroid?

When Osiris Rex arrives at Benno, the mission planners are surprised by what they find.

Almost the entire surface of the asteroid is littered with rocks, as scientists expected to find smooth spots where the spacecraft could easily capture some samples. So the mission planners had to search long and hard for a place that was safe enough.

In December, they finally choose Nightingale, A spot inside a crater near the north pole of Beno. The spacecraft, which is roughly 20 feet wide and in size, will have to carefully navigate to the target location, which is only 26 feet in diameter. In addition, it will have to avoid a wall of rock on the eastern edge of the pit. This includes a tapered column called Mount Doom, which is as tall as a two- or three-story building.

However, despite the risks, Nightingale offers the biggest potential scientific gain, with unobstructed fine-grained materials that appear to contain minerals rich in carbon.

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The original schedule for the task specified the sample attempt to occur in July. But the rigors of the selection of the landing site, as well as the outbreak of the Corona virus, contributed to the delay until October.

How will sample collection work?

The sampler – known as the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism or TAGSAM – looks somewhat like a vehicle air filter at the end of a robotic arm.

The spacecraft will descend slowly. When the air filter-like sampling head hits the surface, the elbow joint in the robotic arms bends to maintain contact with the Bennu surface for approximately five seconds without actually descending.

The nitrogen gas explosion will then break the rocks and dust in the collector filter. Then Osiris Rex will slowly retreat. The goal is to collect at least an ounce of material and possibly as much as 4.4 pounds.

Although Benno was tougher than imagined, Nightingale’s mission team analysis showed that it contained a mixture of small materials that the spacecraft sampling tool could collect.

“Thousands of particles smaller than two centimeters in size were measured in images covering the sample site, and parts of the surface remained unresolved, indicating the presence of smaller particles,” said Beau Bierhaus, a Lockheed Martin scientist working on the device.

It is possible that the first attempt at sampling will not be successful – for example, if the sampling head is unfortunately deflected onto a rock. “We’ve known this from the start of the program,” said Dr. Pearhouse.

If the first attempt was unsuccessful, they can try again at a later time. There is enough nitrogen in the mechanism to make three sampling attempts if needed.

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