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NASA probe will attempt to grab a piece of an asteroid on Tuesday | NOVA

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OSIRIS-REx may have simply three probabilities to the touch down and snag a pattern of the asteroid Bennu because it zooms by house some 204 million miles from Earth.

An artist’s rendering of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft amassing a pattern from the asteroid Bennu. Picture Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona

On Oct. 20 simply after 6 p.m EDT, NASA will try a daring touch-and-go when its little-probe-that-could, OSIRIS-REx, tries to grab a bit of an asteroid. 

The van-sized probe may have three probabilities to increase its 11-foot arm and contact down on the asteroid Bennu for 5 seconds, blowing pure nitrogen fuel onto the floor and hopefully kicking up a significant quantity of mud and pebbles to seize and produce again dwelling.

The sampler head that may contact the asteroid is a bit bigger than a dinner plate, and the purpose is for it to gather anyplace from 60 grams to 2 kilograms (about 2 ounces to 4.5 kilos) of fabric. If the mission is profitable, scientists will use the samples to study extra about each Bennu’s origins—what minerals it’s made from and the place they got here from—and our personal. Bennu is taken into account a “primitive asteroid,” which fashioned one thing like 4.5 billion years in the past and hasn’t modified a lot since then. Which means we’d discover natural molecules on its floor that may educate us concerning the beginnings of life on Earth.

Researchers can even measure the Yarkovsky impact on Bennu, or the way in which warmth from the solar can change its path over time. That’s particularly essential as a result of there’s an opportunity that Bennu, which is concerning the dimension of the Empire State Constructing, would possibly crash into Earth someday late subsequent century. Understanding extra about its potential trajectory may assist future missions looking for to cease that type of influence.

OSIRIS-REx (whose identify is an acronym that refers to its analysis objectives) launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in late 2016; orbited the solar for a 12 months; after which met up with Bennu in 2018. Since then, it’s been observing its touring companion intently, mapping Bennu’s floor and practising flybys at totally different—and generally critically low—altitudes. In December 2019, the mission group selected major and backup websites for landing, two comparatively clean patches inside craters amongst a sea of boulders.

Tuesday’s touch-and-go pattern assortment represents the end result of all of that effort and exploration. After its try(s) at extraterrestrial darts, the probe will return to orbit earlier than returning dwelling in 2023 with no matter bits of Bennu it managed to seize.