NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe to collect samples from Asteroid Bennu

Published: October 20, 2020

The United States-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid Bennu in 2016. The mission aimed to study Asteroid Bennu and return at least 60 grams of the sample.

Highlights

After two years of circling, the satellite is to touch the asteroid. The spacecraft has three bottles of nitrogen. This means that it can touch down the asteroid thrice.

What is the asteroid Bennu and why is it important?

  • The asteroid Bennu is a potentially hazardous object which has a 1 in 2700 chance of hitting the Earth in the year 2175 and 2199.
  • The asteroid has a mean diameter of 492 meters, has a roughly round shape and is under continuous observation by the various observatories of the Earth.
  • The impact of Bennu on Earth is likely to cause widespread death in the side facing the impact and destruction all over the Earth with potentially human-extinction level incidents.

What is the OSIRIS-REx probe?

  • The OSIRIS-REx (short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is a spacecraft which was launched by NASA aboard an Atlas V rocket.
  • It is a mission launched to study the Bennu asteroid and attempt to return a sample of at least 60 grams to Earth for a detailed analysis.
  • The mission was launched on September 2-16 and reached Bennu in 2018. It aims to return to Earth with its cargo in 2023.
  • However, before the space mission attempts to return with a sample from the asteroid, it has to map the surface of Bennu and attempt to ascertain the asteroid’s mass by orbiting it.

Is it possible for an asteroid to wipe out life on Earth?

Yes, an asteroid impact can raise large amounts of dust which will block out the Sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface. This will wipe out most of the life on Earth if it had survived the release of Kinetic energy during the impact itself.

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