NASA is about to make history by obtaining asteroid samples from deep space this week. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be dropping off a small capsule of around 8.8 ounces of rock and dust from the asteroid Bennu, which is tens of millions of miles away from our planet. This would be the first time that NASA has successfully been able to obtain one of these samples and get them back to Earth (via Futurism).
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe is about to briefly return to Earth to deliver samples from asteroid Bennu.
The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa was the first to achieve the feat of bringing these samples back to Earth from the asteroid Itokawa back in 2010. But it will be interesting to see samples from another of these deep-space rocky bodies over a decade later. The Bennu samples could be especially enlightening, as scientists believe they may contain materials that date back to the early days of the solar system.
There is also a chance that the asteroid sample could contain organic molecules that may have been on meteorites that slammed into Earth long ago and provided the seeds for early life. This is a mission that has been many years in the making, so discovering something exciting in the samples would definitely make it worth the wait. The mission to Bennu was launched back in 2016, so these samples are a long time coming.
After the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was launched in 2016, it would reach the Bennu. Bennu is an impressive asteroid that measures roughly 1,614 feet and goes around the sun every six years. Bennu also happens to be very old, with estimations saying it contains materials up to 4.5 billion years old.
The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa was the first to achieve the feat of bringing these samples back to Earth from the asteroid Itokawa back in 2010.
OSIRIS-REx’s next mission will head toward the asteroid Apophis and is expected to arrive there sometime in 2029.
Unlike the many asteroids near Mars and Jupiter, Bennu is also fairly close to Earth (comparatively). After OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennue, it orbited it for two years and then made a Touch-and-Go maneuver to land on the surface, collect the sample, and then boost back into orbit. Finally, OSIRIS-REx started its journey back to Earth in 2021.
Over seven years later, we will finally get to see the results of OSIRIS-REx’s daring mission, and its efforts will hopefully lead to some exciting observations about the materials contained within its payload. However, OSIRIS-REx has a lot more work to do, and it won’t be coming back to Earth quite yet. After the spacecraft drops off the samples from Bennu over the Utah desert, the ship will head straight back into space for another mission.
OSIRIS-REx’s next mission will head toward the asteroid Apophis and is expected to arrive there sometime in 2029. The journey to Apophis alone is longer than it took for OSIRIS-REx to travel to Bennu, collect the sample, and then start its journey back to Earth.
2029 also happens to be the year that the asteroid Apophis will pass less than 20,000 miles from the Earth’s surface, meaning it will be visible to the naked eye for observers in the Eastern Hemisphere. Hopefully, when we look up at Apophis, OSIRIS-Rex will be busy getting comfy in its orbit. It’ll be interesting to see what the ship can bring back from Apophis if it completes another successful mission.