NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission successfully completed its seven-year journey to collect samples from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and is scheduled to return to Earth on Sunday morning. Covering a distance of 4.4 billion miles, the spacecraft, roughly the size of a household toolshed, aimed to study the composition of Bennu and gain insights into the formation of the solar system.
Once it reaches Earth, the spacecraft will drop samples of the asteroid into the Utah Test and Training Range for further examination. Bennu, classified as a Near-Earth Object (NEO), poses a small probability of colliding with Earth in 2182. According to estimates, the chances of a collision stand at 1 in 2,700, or a mere 0.037%.
Bennu has crossed paths with Earth on multiple occasions, getting particularly close in 1999, 2005, and 2011. However, it is in 2135 that experts predict Bennu will pass even closer to Earth than the moon, potentially putting it on a collision course for 2182 due to gravitational forces. This makes it crucial to analyze the asteroid’s composition and characteristics.
Measuring approximately one-third of a mile wide, Bennu contains abundant carbon, making it an invaluable source of information about the evolution of our solar system. The asteroid’s name, originating from an Egyptian deity, represents its potential significance as a time capsule that could provide insights into the origin of life.
After the samples from Bennu are dropped into the Utah Test and Training Range, they will be sent to a laboratory in Houston for further examination. The analysis of these samples will contribute to our understanding of the solar system’s formation and potentially shed light on the evolution of life on Earth.
The OSIRIS-REx mission, with a budget of $800 million, marks the United States’ first endeavor to retrieve and analyze samples from an asteroid. Its success holds the promise of invaluable scientific discoveries and paves the way for future space exploration missions.
Overall, the return of the OSIRIS-REx mission to Earth offers exciting prospects for scientific advancements, as researchers prepare to unravel the secrets held within the samples collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.