NASA’s OSIRIS-REX spacecraft briefly touched down on the asteroid Bennu on Tuesday evening, tagging the surface as part of a collection mission that’s been 16 years in the making.
It is hoped that the any dirt collected will help with future research into our solar system – including how to potentially prevent an asteroid crashing into Earth.
NASA’s scientists celebrated as the OSIRIS-REX spacecraft briefly touched down on the asteroid Bennu on Tuesday eveningCredit: Facebook
The spacecraft made contact with the surface of Bennu shortly after 11pm GMT.
It is hoped that NASA will know by Saturday whether the extraction has been successful.
Any materials collected could help unlock secrets into how our solar system was formed 4.5 billion years ago.
Last December, scientists selected the sample site known as Nightingale – a fairly smooth patch on what is an asteroid strewn with boulders.
Measuring roughly 20 feet wide and is the size of an SUV, OSIRIS-REX was tasked with navigating a target site of just 26 feet in diameter.
The touchdown happened more than 200 million miles away from EarthCredit: AFP
NASA will know by Saturday whether their extraction has been successfulCredit: NASA
The mission has been 16 years in the making and was led by University of Arizona researchers.
The touchdown happened over 200 million miles away from Earth.
Bennu itself is travelling through space at a speed of 63,000 miles per hour.
Once landed, the spacecraft released an 11-foot-long robotic arm to collect a small sample of rubble.
Ahead of the landing, NASA scientists said it could take some time before they can identify just how much material has been collected.
The mission to Bennu, some 200 million miles from Earth, took 16 years in the makingCredit: EPA
Scientist should know by Saturday how successful their extraction has beenCredit: AP:Associated Press
The spacecraft’s landing was captured on a live stream, with NASA scientists explaining each step of the processCredit: Facebook
It will be flown back to Earth in 2023 if the sample is good enough and is expected to arrive in 2023.
We should then be able to unravel some of the mystery surrounding the asteroid and its origins.
The mission is uncharted territory, though, so smooth sailing is not guaranteed.
Why does Nasa want to study Bennu?
Ancient asteroid Bennu contains the ingredients for life, according to Nasa experts.
Ahead of the sampling, experts have been piecing together what they think they know so far about the near Earth asteroid.
Nasa explained: “NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission now knows much more about the material it’ll be collecting in just a few weeks.
“In a special collection of six papers published today in the journals Science and Science Advances, scientists on the OSIRIS-REx mission present new findings on asteroid Bennu’s surface material, geological characteristics, and dynamic history.
“They also suspect that the delivered sample of Bennu may be unlike anything we have in the meteorite collection on Earth.”
Nasa wants to sample a piece of the asteroid todayCredit: Reuters
The researchers relied on high resolution mapping that has been done around Bennu since a spacecraft began to orbit it back in 2018.
It’s hoped that their work will fill in crucial gaps in our understanding of asteroids.
Nasa claims Bennu hosts ingredients that we know are essential for life on Earth.
It said: “One of the papers, led by Amy Simon from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, shows that carbon-bearing, organic material is widespread on the asteroid’s surface, including at the mission’s primary sample site, Nightingale, where OSIRIS-REx will make its first sample collection attempt on October 20.
“These findings indicate that hydrated minerals and organic material will likely be present in the collected sample.
“This organic matter may contain carbon in a form often found in biology or in compounds associated with biology.
“Scientists are planning detailed experiments on these organic molecules and expect that the returned sample will help answer complex questions about the origins of water and life on Earth.”
The asteroid has a rocky terrain as can be seen here in this coloured imageCredit: NASA
There is a theory that life on Earth started because of an asteroid impact bringing water and the right organic molecules.
There’s also slight concern that an asteroid like Bennu could end lives on Earth.
Bennu is a possible security risk for our planet as there’s a 1 in 2,700 chance it could collide with us in the 2100s.
This may be a slim chance but it makes studying the asteroid even more important.
Bright ‘veins’ on the asteroid’s boulders are also being used to suggest Bennu formed when a larger watery asteroid was smashed into and broken up.
The water could have created the veins and left behind the patterns we can still see today.
Bennu – the key facts
Here’s what you need to know
- 101955 Bennu is a large asteroid that was first discovered on September 11, 1999
- It’s official designated as a “potentially hazardous object”, because it could one day hit Earth
- Space scientists say it has a 1-in-2,700 change of impacting Earth between 2175 and 2199
- It’s named after the Bennu, an Ancient Egyptian mythological bird associated with the Sun
- The asteroid has an approximate diameter of 1,614 feet
- Bennu is the target of the ongoing Osiris-Rex mission, which is designed to return samples from the asteroid to Earth in 2023
- The Osiris-Rex spacecraft arrived at Bennu on December 3, 2018 – following a two-year journey
- It will map out Bennu’s surface and orbit the asteroid to calculate its mass
- An asteroid of Bennu’s size can be expected to hit Earth approximately once every 100,000 to 130,000 years
- Bennu will make a close approach (460,000 miles) to Earth on September 23, 2060
In other news, Elon Musk says his Starship rocket could fly to Mars in just over three years.
The Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak this week.
And, a Nasa rocket launched to the Moon in 1966 has hurtled back into view from Earth, according to scientists.
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