A NASA mission will ‘fist bump’ a planet to unravel the secrets of the solar system

The equatorial crescent of the asteroid Bennu and its boulder-filled surface.

NASA’s OSIRIIRIS-Rex spacecraft is ready to sample the diamond-shaped planet Ben.Credit: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

NASA is preparing to taste the asteroid for the first time. On October 20, the agency’s OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft, approximately 334 million kilometers from Earth, will approach a black, diamond-shaped asteroid, with the goal of touching its surface for a few seconds, enough to store. Dust and gravel. If successful, the spacecraft will then fly the carbon-rich debris back to Earth, where scientists can find the key to the solar system’s history.

Traveling to the surface of Bennu will not be easy. The spacecraft will have to navigate its way through a huge boulder called Mount Doom, then to the sample area, which is no bigger than the car-parking spaces. “We may not be successful in our first attempt,” says Dante Lure Retta, the mission’s chief investigator and planetary scientist at Tucson’s University of Arizona. But if it works, he says, “I hope the world sees this as part of the good news – we can be proud of all the madness of something that’s been going on this year.”

There and back

Launched in 2016, the-800 million OSIRIS-Rex is NASA’s first asteroid-sampling mission. It follows two missions from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JXA) that have been cutting dust off the surface of asteroids – including some recovered last year that are currently on their way to Earth. Prior to JAXA’s mission, scientists learned about the contents of the asteroid primarily through the study of meteorites that fell to Earth – and could be contaminated as they passed through the atmosphere and collided with the planet.

Scooping a sample directly from a planet is a billion. gives an ancient glimpse into the rocks left over from the formation of the solar system billions of years ago. Each asteroid has its own story to tell about how it formed and evolved over time; Bennu is particularly attractive because it may contain material rich in organic compounds found in the solar system, including life on Earth.

But first, OSIRIS-Rex will have to pull the sampling. When Lure Retta and his colleagues chose Bennu as their target, they thought the 500-meter-wide planet would be relatively smooth and easy to land. But after OSIRIS-Rex arrived and began to move around Bennu in 2018, the craft was closely watched and large, dangerous stones were found...

So mission engineers developed an automated system to bring the spacecraft down to the surface. As the spacecraft descends, it collects images and compares them with previously taken images of the same target area. OSIRIS-REx can then track whether it is safe on its chosen path. If not, he can abort independently and fly off asteroids while waiting for another chance to swim.

Sample site Nightingale on asteroid Bennu

A view of Nightingale, the site of the sample selected for OSIRIIS-REX, from an OS altitude of 250 m above the surface of Bennu.Credit: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

Its target is a 16-meter wide pit called Nightingale, which provides a relatively smooth surface for landing. “If you can stand in the middle of the nightingale, you can feel the gravel and fine-grained sand beneath your feet,” says Erica Jawan, a planetary scientist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The planet of the museum is scientist.2. He says Mount Doom will fall on you, about the height of a two-story building, which is a “beautiful threat”.

The OSIRIS-Rex will land at Nottinghall with its 3 .– m long robotic arm outstretched. When it touches an asteroid, the U.S. In the evening according to Eastern time: Scheduled at 0 o’clock, it will release a puff of nitrogen gas which will kick small grains in the cloud of debris from the planet. The device of the sample will hover and store some of the particles from it.

GRAB and GO: An infographic demonstration of the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft method for collecting samples from both planets.

Credit: NASA

The process, which will only last 10-15 seconds, is more of a ‘fist bump’ than a landing. As soon as the spacecraft finishes hovering, it returns to a safe distance, and scientists will assess how much material it has collected. NASA wants at least 60 grams of rocks and dust – but close enough would be good. L If Retta says, “If it’s grams, we’ll sit at home and come home.”

If the spacecraft collects 40 grams or less, then scientists are likely to return it to another location on Benoit, called a spray, to some other location. (It can’t go into the Nightingale sample a second time, as the original nitrogen puff will push the small rocks on the surface to unspecified locations, making ‘double drowning’ dangerous, Laureta says. Regardless, the spacecraft is scheduled to depart Bennu in March, and finally land in 2023 with its precious cargo.

Asteroid anatomy

Bennu has spent a lot of his life. It was formed about 100 million years ago to a billion years ago, when it collapsed from a large ‘parent’ body during a cosmic collision in the planetary belt of the solar system. But Bennu has retained the traces of his parents. While orbiting the asteroid, OSIRIS-Rex discovered that some of the rocks on Bennu had been shot through the veins of an ancient carbon-rich material known as carbonate. The carbonate probably forms when the ice melts from the parent body, triggering a watery reaction inside its rocks.

In this video, OSIRIIS-Rex rehearses the approach that will take Bennu to the surface. Here, the craft imager captured the hand of the specimen descending within 40 meters of the planet in a period of about 14-minutes. Credit: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

“I’m surprised to see these veins,” says Hannah Kaplan, a planetary scientist and lead author at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Science Paper3 That search announced. They measure centimeters wide and can stretch to more than a meter long – much larger than the carbonate veins found in some meteorites. According to Lauretta, the large veins indicate that Bennu’s parent body once had a huge system of hot water – meaning it had a lot of active geology. Some pieces of this carbonate may fall to the ground at Nightingale and will be picked up by OSIRIS-Rex.

The researchers compared the Bennu specimens with those currently returning to Earth from Ryugu, with the larger planet JXA’s Haibusa 2 spacecraft that went last year. “I feel like cutting two delicious cakes on my birthday like a spoiled kid,” says Rohit Holloway, an eclipse scientist at Hibusa 2 in Igam, UK. Ryugu seems to have less water rich content than Bennu on its surface; By comparing the samples, researchers will be able to better understand how common aquatic processes and organic matter are on asteroids.

Scientists will also whip Bennu stones for clues on how to defend the planet from asteroids. Bennu orbits dangerously close to Earth and is likely to break into the planet sometime in the twenty-second century. Studies have shown that asteroids are bleed with a loose white clot rather than a solid rock. By closely examining the compatibility of Bennu rocks, scientists can suggest ways to threaten or destroy asteroids close to Earth.

Says Jawan, “Any sample taken from Bennu will be surprisingly useful – this is an important addition to the collection of planetary samples on Earth. “He probably wouldn’t pay much attention to the fact that we were there and stole some of his rocks.”