Asteroid Bennu, NASA, Osiris-Rex,
image source: Earth sky

After the long hunt of two years, Osiris-Rex finally found the Ancient asteroid named as Bennu. NASA spacecraft is the first visitor in Billion of years on Bennu. The US is doing attempts to collect the sample from the asteroid in order to study how the universe formed. Osiris-Rex has come closer to Asteroid and then they will get this into the orbit around Bennu around December 31.

First Know about Asteroid Bennu

According to Wikipedia, 101955 Bennu(provisional designation 1999 RQ36) is a carbonaceous asteroid in the Apollo group discovered by the LINEAR Project on September 11, 1999. It is a potentially hazardous object that is listed on the Sentry Risk Table with the second-highest cumulative rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale. It has a cumulative 1-in-2,700 chance of impacting Earth between 2175–2199. It is the planned target of the OSIRIS-REx mission which is intended to return samples to Earth in 2023 for further study.

On December 3, 2018, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at the asteroid Bennu after a two-year journey. 

101955 Bennu has a mean diameter of approximately 492 m (1,614 ft; 0.306 mi) and has been observed extensively with the Arecibo Observatory planetary radar and the Goldstone Deep Space Network.

Osiris Rex is said to gather the sample from the asteroid Bennu and return to Earth, the collection of sample from Asteroid is only done by Japan till now but NASA hopes to do that also. Collecting sample from Asteroid will help the scientist to study the evolution of Earth and other planets and to know the origin of Solar system as the Bennu is full of carbon and piece of Bennu can help to do carbon dating and reveal many secrets about the universe.

But there was no touchdown upon arrival at Bennu. To successfully collect a pristine sample, OSIRIS-REx must still perform 1½ years of measurements, mapping and data collection before locating the ideal sample site and heading in for the retrieval procedure.

OSIRIS-Rex, Bennu, Nasa
image source: NASA

Afterall Bennu is so small that scientists are only able to theorize about the asteroid. Bennu can become a threat to Earth but does not seems so as it is having only 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting the Earth after two years. So the scientists are thinking that it will be good to know more about what is coming towards Earth and how it might intersect with our own.

After the successful landing of InSight Lander on Mars, it is the second achievement of NASA within a week. The flight controllers of Osiris-Rex gave high fives to each other when the news confirmed that Osiris made it to Bennu. This news was confirmed at 10:08 am in Tucson and at mission control at lockheed Martin in Colorado.

NASA tweeted” Hello, asteroid Bennu! Our @OSIRISREx spacecraft flew over 2 billion miles to meet you. Here, the spacecraft’s camera captures a full rotation of the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx will study Bennu for almost a year & prepare to collect and return a sample to Earth.

“Relieved, proud, and anxious to start exploring!” tweeted lead scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. “To Bennu and back!”

“This is the start of the grand adventure that is OSIRIS-REx,” said UA Professor Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator.

Bennu will be shadowed by the Osiris-Rex for the year and Osiris-Rex will be coming back to Earth in 2023.

How Osiris-Rex will arrive at Bennu?

Osiris-Rex is guided by some pre-programmed commands as it will reach Bennu. On the Earth only it can be monitored and then the earth commandments will see what is happening out there via NASA Deep Space Network.

Fortunately, if anything went wrong — the engines could have fired in the wrong direction or for the wrong amount of time, for example — the team could still make corrections later on. “There’s a lot of wiggle room,” Lauretta said. However, such a setback would change the timeline and how OSIRIS-REx returns home.

Then the spacecraft will be flying over the Bennu. Next, the spacecraft will fly over Bennu’s north pole, equator and south pole five times to understand its mass, which is needed to go into orbit around the asteroid, said Mike Nolan, head of the mission’s science team.


This procedure will take nearly four weeks. On Dec. 31, the spacecraft can then begin orbiting from about a mile out along the line that separates day and night on the asteroid, called the terminator. This is done to evenly distribute the pressure from the light of the sun on the spacecraft, Nolan said.

Nolan said he was very pleased at how accurate his computer model of Bennu’s shape turned out. “One important thing for me to figure out is how well-made the models are based on ground-based telescopic measurements and how well we can trust them,” he said.

“The good news is that the asteroid for the most part has behaved well. There are no hazards in the surrounding environment and it’s the shape and size and rotating like we thought,” Lauretta said.

How Osiris-Rex will collect Sample from Bennu?

It is the obvious question that how Osiris will be able to collect carbon sample as said. Japanese are also doing the same and it will be there second mission to the Asteroid. They are currently studying Ryugu which is much larger than Bennu and almost the double size of Bennu.

Sample from the Bennu will act as the time capsule and after studying it, scientists will be able to go back in time and guess what happened exactly.

Osiris-Rex will be collecting 60 grams of dust and gravel but the actual thing is that it is not going to land on the Bennu instead will be using the three-meter mechanical arm in 2020 and then momentarily touching down and vacuum up particles. Then the sample will be brought back to Earth. NASA has brought some comet dust but it will be the first time to collect a sample from asteroid and then bringing back it the earth.

The collection – parachuting down to Utah – would represent the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Bennu and Ryugu are considered as a hazard for the earth as they are able to smack the earth in few years. Scientists are saying that they need to figure out the actual configuration of the asteroid before they will smack us.

This actual mission began in 2016 and consumed funds of about $800m.

Both the spacecraft and asteroid’s names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation. Osiris-Rex is actually a NASA acronym for origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security-regolith explorer.

“It will really be record-breaking in terms of the precision, the navigation, compared to anything we’ve done before,” said flight navigator Coralie Adam, an engineer at aerospace company KinetX.

Coming to earth

Osiris-Rex will be coming to earth on March 3, 2021 and the sample collected from the Bennu will fall near Utah Dessert on Sept. 24, 2023.

On Earth, the primordial rocks and dust will be analyzed down to the atomic level to further determine the asteroid’s chemical composition. Sample scientists will look for organic compounds such as amino acids and sugars, the building blocks for life.


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