NASA spacecraft to collect samples from asteroid Tuesday

Scientists hope to find more about our planet’s origins by exploring the asteroid, Bennu

Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

ROANOKE, Va. – NASA’S Osiris-REx spacecraft launched from the pad in September 2016 and arrived to its destination in December of 2018. Its mission is a first of its kind - to retrieve a sample from an asteroid and bring that sample back to Earth in September of 2023.

Meet, Bennu!

The asteroid, Bennu, is as tall as the Empire State Building. At first, it was thought that Bennu was comprised of mostly small rocks. High resolution imagery from Osiris-REx found that its terrain was much more complicated, making Tuesday’s scheduled landing more difficult. Osiris-REx was designed to work in a space of nearly 100 parking spaces. Because of Bennu’s terrain, that space now has to be shrunk to 5 parking spaces.

If Osiris-REx does successfully land, it will go through a touch-and-go process to collect a few ounces of sample from the space rock.

Bennu’s history

Discovered in 1999, Bennu was discovered to be a Near-Earth Object (NEO). On its current trajectory, scientists estimate that the asteroid will come within 4.6 million miles of Earth’s orbit. The chance of an Earthly impact is 1-in-2,700 between the years 2175 and 2199.

The 4.5 billion-year-old asteroid is rich in carbon, which doesn’t reflect much light. This makes it a very dark and very cold body. NASA also says that, due to a series of gravitational tugs, Bennu has drifted closer to Earth than its believed birthing place. Its age makes it a prime asteroid to research, because it may contain molecules that were around when life first formed on Earth.

What we hope to find

What researchers hope to find includes metals like platinum and gold. This could help us further explore mining of space’s infinite resources. In addition to the metals, water is the resource most coveted by researchers.

Can we see the mission?

We sure can! Make sure to visit this link once coverage starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday. To learn more about Bennu and the mission, click here.

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