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 chunk of an asteroid.
The van-sized probe could have three probabilities to increase its 11-foot arm and contact down on the asteroid Bennu for 5 seconds, blowing pure nitrogen gasoline onto the floor and hopefully kicking up a significant quantity of mud and pebbles to seize and produce again dwelling.
The sampler head that can contact the asteroid is a bit bigger than a dinner plate, and the purpose is for it to gather wherever 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 be taught extra about each Bennu’s origins—what minerals it’s fabricated from and the place they got here from—and our personal. Bennu is taken into account a “primitive asteroid,” which shaped 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 may 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 vital as a result of there’s an opportunity that Bennu, which is concerning the measurement of the Empire State Constructing, would possibly crash into Earth someday late subsequent century. Understanding extra about its potential trajectory may assist future missions searching for to cease that form of impression.
OSIRIS-REx (whose identify is an acronym that refers to its analysis targets) launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in late 2016; orbited the solar for a yr; after which met up with Bennu in 2018. Since then, it’s been observing its touring companion carefully, mapping Bennu’s floor and training flybys at totally different—and typically severely low—altitudes. In December 2019, the mission crew selected main 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.