When to Watch NASA’s OSIRIS-REX Mission to Bennu Asteroid

What’s the OSIRIS-REX mission?

On Tuesday, a NASA spacecraft, OSIRIS-REX, will try and briefly contact an asteroid, Bennu, and suck up some rocks and dust. If it succeeds, it’s going to convey these supplies again to Earth for nearer examine, probably unlocking secrets and techniques to what the photo voltaic system was like when it first shaped 4.5 billion years in the past.

“The asteroids are like time capsules, floating in house, that may present a fossil report of the beginning of our photo voltaic system,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, mentioned throughout a information convention on Monday.

Many asteroids — together with Bennu — cross the orbit of Earth and will collide with our planet sometime. A greater understanding of those house rocks, which are available in many varieties, may help humanity’s capability to divert one which may slam into Earth.

OSIRIS-REX is a shortening of Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety, Regolith Explorer.

Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist on the College of Arizona who’s the principal investigator of the mission, got here up with the title. He mentioned that as he jotted down themes of the scientific aims — origins, spectroscopy, sources and safety — he had many of the letters of Osiris, the Egyptian god who was the lord of the underworld however who additionally represented the seeds of regeneration to new life. He then performed round with the title till he acquired the abbreviation he needed.

The robotic spacecraft launched in September 2016 and arrived at Bennu in December 2018. Since then, it has been making observations of the asteroid, even documenting that it was shooting debris from its surface into space. The probe made a few rehearsal approaches in preparation of Tuesday’s try to gather a pattern from the floor.

When will the spacecraft contact down, and the way can I observe it?

OSIRIS-REX will begin its regular strategy towards the asteroid’s floor round 1:50 p.m. Japanese time on Tuesday. It’s scheduled to make its touch-and-go assortment of a pattern of Bennu at 6:12 p.m.

Shortly earlier than midday, mission controllers on Earth transmitted instructions to the spacecraft that initiated its descent towards the asteroid. It can transfer at a couple of fifth of a mile per hour.

Beginning at 5 p.m., NASA Television will broadcast protection of the pattern assortment try from the mission management at Lockheed Martin Area in Littleton, Colo.

On Wednesday at 5 p.m., the house company is scheduled to carry a information convention, additionally broadcast on NASA Tv, to debate how the sampling effort went and launch close-up photographs of Bennu.

Why did NASA select to review Bennu?

Bennu, found in 1999, is a carbon-rich asteroid that’s nearly black in coloration. It’s about 1,600 ft extensive. That compares to the Empire State Constructing, which is 1,454 ft tall together with the antenna on the prime. The carbon-rich supplies are intriguing as a result of asteroids like Bennu might need seeded Earth with the building blocks for life.

In a collection of papers printed within the journal Science this month, scientists reported what they’ve realized about Bennu up to now. They discovered carbonate minerals in among the asteroid’s geological options, which usually kind in environments that embrace each sizzling water and carbon dioxide. That implies that the bigger physique that Bennu was as soon as a part of possessed sizzling springs or another kind of in depth hydrothermal system.

Scientists additionally famous two foremost kinds of boulders on Bennu. One is darkish and tough; the opposite, much less widespread, is vibrant and easy. These variations may mirror that they shaped at completely different depths on Bennu’s mum or dad object, and trace at its geological character.

The opposite motive they selected to review Bennu was the chance that it would sometime collide with our planet.

Will the asteroid crash into Earth?

Bennu is categorized as a near-Earth asteroid, and scientists say there’s a small likelihood it may slam into Earth. However even when it does, future generations could have time to organize.

Bennu will make a collection of very shut passes of Earth between 2175 and 2199.

“The prospect that Bennu will influence Earth is just one in 2,700,” mentioned Andrea Riley, this system government of an upcoming NASA mission often called the Double Asteroid Redirection Check.

If Twenty second-century people acquired unfortunate and forgot Bennu was coming, the asteroid just isn’t massive sufficient to trigger planet-wide extinctions. However it will be catastrophic on the level of influence.

The place will the spacecraft contact down on the asteroid?

When OSIRIS-REX arrived at Bennu, the mission’s planners have been stunned at what they discovered.

Nearly all the floor of the asteroid is strewn with boulders, the place scientists had anticipated to seek out easy patches the place the spacecraft may simply seize some samples. So the mission planners needed to search lengthy and laborious for a protected sufficient place.

In December, they finally chose Nightingale, a spot inside a crater close to Bennu’s north pole. The spacecraft, 20 ft extensive and in regards to the measurement of a sport utility automobile, should navigate fastidiously to the goal web site, which is simply 26 ft in diameter. As well as, it’ll should keep away from a wall of rocks on the japanese fringe of the crater. That features a pointy pillar nicknamed Mount Doom, which is as tall as a two- or three-story constructing.

Nonetheless, regardless of the dangers, Nightingale affords the best potential scientific payoffs, with unobstructed fine-grained materials that seems to comprise carbon-rich minerals.

The unique mission timeline set the pattern try and happen in July. However the rigors of choosing the touchdown web site, in addition to the coronavirus outbreak, contributed to the delay to October.

How will the pattern assortment work?

The sampling device — often called the Contact-and-Go Pattern Acquisition Mechanism or TAGSAM — type of appears to be like like an vehicle air filter on the finish of a robotic arm.

The spacecraft will descend slowly. When the air-filter-like sampling head touches the floor, an elbow joint within the robotic arms will bend to remain involved with Bennu’s floor for about 5 seconds with out truly touchdown.

A burst of nitrogen gasoline will then knock up rocks and mud into the collector filter. OSIRIS-REX will then slowly again away. The aim is to gather a minimum of a few ounces of fabric and probably as a lot as 4.4 kilos.

Though Bennu turned out to be rockier than envisioned, the mission crew’s evaluation of the Nightingale web site confirmed that it had a mixture of small supplies that the spacecraft’s sampling instrument would be capable to accumulate.

“1000’s of particles lower than two centimeters have been measured in photographs that cowl the pattern web site, and parts of the floor stay unresolved, suggesting even smaller particles are current,” mentioned Beau Bierhaus, a scientist at Lockheed Martin working with the gadget.

It’s doable that the primary sampling try won’t succeed — for instance, if the sampling head unluckily units down askew on a boulder. “We’ve recognized this for the reason that starting of this system,” Dr. Bierhaus mentioned.

If it doesn’t work on the primary attempt, they will attempt once more at a later date. There’s sufficient nitrogen within the mechanism to conduct three sampling makes an attempt if wanted.

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