Tag: Bennu

NASA Spacecraft Finds Water In Search For Origins Of Life On Asteroid

A NASA spacecraft that just arrived last December 2018 on an asteroid has already made its first big discovery: ingredients for water.

Scientists hope that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will shed light on the mysteries of Bennu, an asteroid the size of a skyscraper that could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.

The craft only arrived at the asteroid in recent days but the discovery of water is a major breakthrough that scientists hope can be matched by more discoveries in the future.

It was found when OSIRIS-REx flew close to the asteroid and picked up traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in its rocky surface. Those make up part of the recipe for water – itself a key ingredient in life itself.




The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth.

There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.

Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

NASA Craft Shows Tiny Asteroid Studded With Boulders

NASA’s first look at a tiny asteroid shows the space rock is more moist and studded with boulders than originally thought.

Scientists released the first morsels of data collected since their spacecraft Osiris-Rex hooked up last week with the asteroid Bennu, which is only about three blocks wide and weighs about 80 million tons.

Bennu regularly crosses Earth’s orbit and will come perilously close in about 150 years. There is no liquid water on the asteroid, but there is plenty of it in the form of wet clay.

Project scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona said the blueish space rock is “a little more rugged of an environment than we expected” with hundreds of 10-metre boulders, instead of just one or two.

There’s also a bigger 50-metre boulder which looks like two cones put together with a bulge on its waistline.

Scientists think Bennu is a leftover from the beginning of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago when planets tried to form and some failed.

Mr Lauretta said it looks like Bennu was once a chunk of a bigger asteroid that probably had water in it.




When Osiris-Rex starts orbiting Bennu in January — no easy feat since its gravity is 100,000 times less than Earth’s — it will be the smallest object that a human-made spacecraft has circled.

Scientists will spend a year scouting the space rock for a good location and then in 2020 it will dive close to the surface and a robotic arm will shoot nitrogen puffs into the soil and collect grains of dirt.

Those asteroid bits will be returned to Earth in 2023.

The 800 million dollar (£636 million) Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its odometer read 1.2 billion miles last week.

The spacecraft and asteroid names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

NASA Probe Arrives at Asteroid Bennu on Monday

I hope you’re not all partied out after the InSight lander’s successful touchdown on Mars this week, because there’s another big spaceflight event just around the corner.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe will officially arrive at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu at about 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) today, Monday (Dec. 3), ending a 27-month deep-space chase.

NASA will mark the occasion with a special webcast event from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. EST (1645 to 1715 GMT), which you can watch live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV.

The space agency will also air an “arrival preview program” at 11:15 a.m. EST (1615 GMT). You can catch that here at Space.com as well.

The $800 million OSIRIS-REx mission launched on Sept. 8, 2016, embarking on a looping trek toward the 1,640-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu.

Upon arrival, the probe will take up a position about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the space rock, NASA officials said.

OSIRIS-REx will then fly by Bennu repeatedly over the next four weeks, gathering data that will help mission team members establish the asteroid’s mass.

With this information in hand, OSIRIS-REx will slide into orbit around the space rock on Dec. 31 — just hours before NASA’s New Horizons probe cruises past the distant object Ultima Thule, billions of miles from Earth.




The diamond-shaped Bennu will then become the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.

OSIRIS-REx will study the rock from orbit for the next 18 months or so and then make its way down to Bennu’s surface to grab a sizeable sample of material in mid-2020.

The spacecraft will depart the asteroid in March 2021, and the sample will come down to Earth in a special return capsule in September 2023.

Scientists around the world will study this material, looking for clues about the role that carbon-rich asteroids such as Bennu may have played in bringing the building blocks of life to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx — which is short for “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer” — will also make significant contributions in other ways, mission team members have said.

For example, the probe’s measurements should help researchers better understand the resource potential of Bennu-like space rocks.

And other data will increase knowledge of how asteroids move through space, which in turn should improve predictions of where hazardous rocks are headed.

Bennu is itself a potentially dangerous asteroid; there’s a very small probability that it could hit Earth in the late 22nd century.

OSIRIS-REx isn’t the only active asteroid-sampling mission. Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft is currently orbiting the 3,000-foot-wide (900 m) Ryugu, which shares Bennu’s diamond shape.

Hayabusa2 will grab a Ryugu sample next year and return it to Earth in late 2020, if all goes according to plan.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

A NASA Spacecraft Is About To Slingshot Around Earth To Meet Up With An Asteroid

On Friday, a spacecraft the size of an SUV will slingshot around Earth’s South Pole, altering its trajectory through space.

The probe is NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, and its upcoming maneuver around our planet is known as a gravity assist — a way to harness Earth’s gravity to alter its orbit.

The move is critical, since it will put OSIRIS-REx on course to meet up with an asteroid in the fall of 2018.

OSIRIS-REx launched last year with a relatively straightforward purpose: grab a sample of rocks from an asteroid and bring them back to Earth.

If all goes well, the vehicle should retrieve the largest sample ever collected from an asteroid, and give scientists the chance to study the space rock components in more detail than ever before.

But first, the probe has to reach its target — a nearby asteroid named Bennu.




NASA picked Bennu partly because the asteroid’s orbit is similar to Earth’s orbit, and that makes it an easier target to reach.

But their paths aren’t the exact same: Bennu’s orbit is tilted by about six degrees compared to Earth’s. In the past year, OSIRIS-REx has been orbiting in the same plane as Earth, traveling slightly ahead of our planet.

And now it’s time for OSIRIS-REx to match Bennu’s orbit in space.

There are two main options to change a spacecraft’s trajectory: one is to use the vehicle’s onboard engines to propel the spacecraft in a certain direction.

The problem with this option is that it uses up the spacecraft’s finite amount of fuel. And OSIRIS-REx would have needed a lot of fuel to alter its course to reach Bennu in time — more than the vehicle is carrying.

So instead, the probe’s navigators opted to use the second option — a gravity assist. “This was the only option to reach Bennu, launching in 2016,” Michael Moreau, a flight engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said.

This maneuver has been used on many previous space missions, to increase or decrease a spacecraft’s speed and course. It’s essentially an exchange of energy, similar to when a roller coaster speeds up while going down a hill.

When OSIRIS-REx swings by Earth, it will steal a little bit of our planet’s momentum in order to change its orbit. Earth is so massive that the maneuver won’t really affect our planet.

But OSIRIS-REx will change its speed and course by more than 8,400 miles per hour. That’s nearly twice the amount the spacecraft would get if it used up all its fuel.

OSIRIS-REx will approach the Earth at a speed of 19,000 miles per hour, flying over Australia first. It will then make its closest approach to Earth at 12:52PM ET, coming within 11,000 miles of Antarctica.

Around that time, the vehicle will lose contact with NASA since it will be out of range with the space agency’s closest tracking stations.

The blackout should last just 50 minutes, though, and NASA expects to regain communications around 1:40PM ET.

The vehicle is also supposed to come into areas dominated by satellites, but NASA says it has taken steps to make sure no collisions happen during the assist.

After Friday’s maneuver, OSIRIS-REx will cruise through space for another year, reaching Bennu in October.

At that point, the vehicle is supposed to fly around the asteroid for two years, surveying the rock’s surface, before actually grabbing the coveted sample and returning to Earth.

The gravity assist is the first step to getting there, and it’ll allow the mission team to meet up with Bennu exactly when they needed to, while saving on fuel.

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Pass it on: Popular Science