NASA's OSIRIS-REx arrives at asteroid target Bennu

NASA Probe Reaches Asteroid Bennu Ready to Collect Samples

Engineer Tim Linn explains how the Osiris-Rex will suck up asteroid dust. The asteroid Bennu, which measures about 1,600 feet across, will be OSIRIS-REx's home for the next two years or so.

Over two-years after launch, the NASA probe OSIRIS-REx will land on a skyscraper-sized asteroid on Monday for the first U.S. mission to carry asteroid samples back to Earth.

"But this is all dependent on the outcome of a very close approach that Bennu has with Earth in September 2135", Johnson said.

On Tuesday, the spacecraft will fly within 5 miles of Bennu, which will help design future orbits and map the surface.

OSIRIS-REx - the convoluted acronym stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer - is equipped with three cameras, two spectrometers, a laser altimeter and an X-ray imaging system developed by college students. The spacecraft will spend a year surveying Bennu before collecting a sample that will be returned to Earth for analysis.

"The OSIRIS-REx team is proud to cross another major milestone off our list - asteroid arrival", said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

During OSIRIS-REx's stay at Bennu, scientists are hoping to learn more about the earliest days of the solar system, because asteroids are the rubble left behind as planets formed.

"OSIRIS-REx seeks answers to the questions that are central to the human experience: Where did we come from?"

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Now, at about 11.8 miles (19 kilometers) from Bennu's Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid. With a puff of nitrogen gas, it will blow some material off the asteroid's surface, gathering as much as 4.4 pounds of rock in the head of the sample. It was "flexed" in space for the first time on November 14. This mission, which will bring grains back for us to study on Earth, is the latest to return asteroid samples to Earth after the Japanese Space Agency's missions Hayabusa 1 and 2 and StarDust.

Early images of Bennu appear to show that it's a "rubble pile", a collection of rocks and boulders that have accumulated under gravity over billions of years to form the approximately 500m-wide asteroid. NASA plans to bring the sample back to Earth in 2023, packed in a capsule.

The next two years is going to be an exciting one for small body research.

Bennu is also close to Earth. The asteroid fits a number of criteria that make it intriguing and convenient.

Bennu is so small (about 0.05 percent of the mass of Mount Everest) that its gravity is almost negligible. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The new data will help scientists better understand how asteroids form and evolve.

It is believed that on this asteroid, water which is another vital component to the evolution of life may also be trapped in the asteroid's minerals.

"Bennu is likely rich in organic molecules, which are made of chains of carbon bonded with atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, and other elements in a chemical recipe that makes all known living things". It's because of objects like Bennu that these resources were delivered to Earth during its formation.

Achievement unlocked and "we have arrived", NASA announced on its official Twitter account.

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