NASA spacecraft is poised for long-anticipated rendezvous with asteroid

Watch NASA live stream the arrival of its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe

Using a circular device much like a car's air filter, and a reverse vacuum to stir up and collect dust, the device aims to grab about two ounces (60 grams) of material from the asteroid's surface, and return it to Earth for further study. OSIRIS-REx will cautiously approach its target before slipping into orbit for more than two years of scientific observations. Once a site is selected, the spacecraft will land for about five seconds to collect a sample of the surface material, using a burst of nitrogen gas to liberate material from the surface into the sampler head. He expects those pictures to be back on Earth around 10 December, when a press conference is scheduled at the AGU fall meeting in Washington, D.C. There, the OSIRIS-REx team plans to present early Bennu science results.

Asteroids are material left over from the early solar system, which means they offer a unique look into its composition. Astronomers have studied Bennu intensely from a distance, and they know that it's a carbonaceous, or carbon-rich, asteroid.

'Some of the mineral fragments inside Bennu could be older than the solar system.

The probe will orbit the asteroid for 18 months and bring back a sample that could help explain how planets formed and may help explain how life began.

OSIRIS-REx's mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

The low gravity of smaller objects like asteroids makes it more hard to target missions. Instruments on board will allow enable us to identify different chemicals on it. "We'll do this first globally, and from there prioritize two candidate sample sites".

Stowing the sample
Stowing the sample

An artist's impression of Bennu. Astronomers believe there is now a 1 in 2700 chance that it could hit Earth in the mid-to-late 22nd century, or in about 150-200 years in the future.

Both Bennu and Ryugu are considered potentially hazardous asteroids. Every six years, Bennu passes within 185,911 miles of Earth.

OSIRIS-REx has a camera suite, a laser altimeter for 3D mapping, a thermal emission spectrometer to take temperature and mineral content and spectrometers to measure X-rays, almost infrared and visible light. One of the things it will measure is the Bennu's "Yarkovsky acceleration".

"OSIRIS-REx seeks answers to the questions that are central to the human experience: Where did we come from?" Polycam is an eight-inch telescope that was the first camera to acquire Bennu and will be used to perform high-resolution mapping, while the Mapcam is used to search for plumes and satellites, and to take RGB color and near-infrared images for spectral imaging, topographic mapping, and color photography. "Now we embark on gaining experience flying our spacecraft about such a small body".

OSIRIS-REx will continue doing this over the next four weeks, during close flybys over Bennu's north pole, equator and south pole that will bring the probe as close as 4.4 miles (7.1 kilometers) to the asteroid's surface. We can actually get images to the sub-millimeter level, so we will be able to see grain sizes, boulders, craters of the surface of Bennu. Read the original article.

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