450-meter asteroid Bennu samples to come back to Earth on NASA's OSIRIS-REx; know when | Tech News

450-meter asteroid Bennu samples to come back to Earth on NASA's OSIRIS-REx; know when

NASA has revealed the return date for its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft which is currently traveling with samples from asteroid Bennu. Know when it will reach Earth.

| Updated on: Apr 01 2023, 17:14 IST
Asteroid fun facts in pics: NASA reveals all you need to know
Asteroid Bennu
1/5 Space is full of objects, out of which only a few have been discovered. Asteroids are some of these objects. If you are not aware about the dangerous objects called asteroids, here are some facts you should know. First, did you know that asteroids are sometimes called minor planets? Well, they are. (Pixabay)
Asteroid Bennu
2/5 Differences between an Asteroid, Comet, Meteoroid, Meteor and Meteorite: According to the information provided by NASA, Asteroid is a relatively small, inactive, rocky body orbiting the Sun. Comet is a relatively small, at times active, object whose ice can vaporize in sunlight forming an atmosphere (coma) of dust and gas and, sometimes, a tail of dust and/or gas. Meteoroid is a small particle from a comet or asteroid orbiting the Sun. Meteor is the light phenomena which results when a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere and vaporizes, in short, a shooting star. While, Meteorite is a meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth's atmosphere and lands upon the Earth's surface. (NASA)
Asteroid Bennu
3/5 Asteroid: Size, frequency and impact- More than 100 tons of dust and sand sized particles are bombarded towards Earth everyday, according to NASA. While, about once a year, an automobile-sized asteroid hits Earth's atmosphere, creates an impressive fireball, and burns up before reaching the surface. Every 2,000 years or so, a meteoroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage to the area. Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth's civilization comes along. Impact craters on Earth, the moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences. Space rocks smaller than about 25 meters (about 82 feet) will most likely burn up as they enter the Earth's atmosphere and cause little or no damage. By comparison, asteroids that populate the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and pose no threat to Earth, can be as big as 940 kilometers (about 583 miles) across. (NASA)
Asteroid Bennu
4/5 How is an Asteroid Orbit Calculated? An asteroid's orbit is computed by finding the elliptical path about the sun that best fits the available observations of the object. That is, the object's computed path about the sun is adjusted until the predictions of where the asteroid should have appeared in the sky at several observed times match the positions where the object was actually observed to be at those same times. (Pixabay)
Asteroid Bennu
5/5 What is NASA doing to find and learn more about potentially hazardous asteroids and comets? NASA has established a Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), managed in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The PDCO ensures the early detection of potentially hazardous objects (PHOs) - asteroids and comets whose orbits are predicted to bring them within 0.05 Astronomical Units of Earth (5 million miles or 8 million kilometers) and of a size large enough to reach Earth's surface - that is, greater than approximately 30 to 50 meters. NASA tracks and characterizes these objects and issues warnings about potential impacts, providing timely and accurate information. NASA also leads the coordination of U.S. Government planning for response to an actual impact threat. (AFP)
Asteroid Bennu
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Know the return date for NASA OSIRIS-REx and how the space agency is preparing for it. (NASA)

More than six years have passed since the NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embarked on its unique mission. Unlike most NASA expeditions, the spacecraft's destination was not a planet or a moon, but a 450-meter wide asteroid named 101955 Bennu. The mission's objective was to collect a minimum of 60 grams of sample material from the asteroid and return it to Earth. Right now, it is on the way home with almost 250 grams of primitive rocks stored in its locker. And to add to the excitement, NASA has announced the return date for the spacecraft to touch down on the Earth and how it is planning to recover the sample.

NASA reported in a press release that its first-of-a-kind mission will end on September 24 when the spacecraft will return to Earth. But the biggest challenge for the space agency still awaits. “After seven years in space, including a nail-biting touchdown on Bennu to gather dust and rocks, this intrepid mission is about to face one of its biggest challenges yet: deliver the asteroid sample to Earth while protecting it from heat, vibrations, and earthly contaminants,” the post explained.

NASA prepares to receive the asteroid sample

The challenge of protecting it from contamination is high because the location where the return capsule will land is in the Utah desert. And in such harsh conditions, the chances of the pristine material getting contaminants and potentially wasting any research on the sample rendering useless is quite high.

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So, over the next six months, the OSIRIS-REx team will practice and refine the procedures required to recover the sample in Utah and transport it to a new lab built for the material at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. There, scientists will unpack the sample, distribute up to a quarter of it to the OSIRIS-REx science team around the world for analysis, and curate the rest for other scientists to study, now and in future generations.

“The OSIRIS-REx team has already performed amazing feats characterizing and sampling asteroid Bennu. These accomplishments are the direct result of the extensive training and rehearsals that we performed every step of the way. We are bringing that level of discipline and dedication to this final phase of the flight operations,” aid Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator.

The return to Earth of samples from asteroid Bennu will be the culmination of a more than 12-year effort by NASA and its mission partners but marks the beginning of a new phase of discovery as scientists from around the world will turn their attention to the analysis of this unique and precious material dating from the early formation of our solar system.

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First Published Date: 01 Apr, 17:13 IST