NEW DELHI: Nasa’s asteroid-chasing OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will pass Earth this weekend, returning a sample gathered from asteroid Bennu on September 24. This is the first time Nasa has tried to collect material from an asteroid and bring it home.
Launched in 2016, OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer) reached asteroid Bennu in 2018 and three years ago, the probe stuck out its 11-foot-long vacuum stick and sucked in some asteroid dust and pebbles.
The craft is finally delivering the cup-full of sample — all 250 grams of it — to Earth, where scientists will try to better understand Bennu’s composition.
When will the landing occur?
The Nasa spacecraft will swing by Earth and drop down the parcel, ending a 6.2-billion-kilometer-long journey, on September 24 around 7.30 pm IST.
OSIRIS-REx will release the capsule with a parachute from an altitude of 1,00,000 kilometres, four hours after which it will land in the Utah desert in the US on Sunday.
The release command will be coming from spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin’s control centre in Colorado. Once the sample’s safety is assured, the capsule will be taken to a makeshift clean lab at the range. On Monday morning, the sample rubble will be carried in a sealed container to Houston via air.
Where to watch
Nasa’s live coverage of the OSIRIS-REx capsule landing will start at 10 am EDT (7.30pm IST) on September 24 and will air on Nasa TV, and the agency’s website: https://www.nasa.gov/live
A post-landing news conference will occur about 5 pm EDT (2.30am IST on September 25), when the sample capsule arrives at a temporary clean room on the military range. Coverage will air on Nasa TV and the agency’s website.
What will happen after the landing?
For two years after the sample returns, from late 2023 until 2025, the sample will be cataloged and analysed, according to Nasa. At least 75% of the Bennu sample will be preserved at Nasa’s Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston for future research.
While this research is conducted with the Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will change names to OSIRIS-APEX and journey to the near-Earth asteroid Apophis, settling into orbit around the 1200-foot (370 meter) wide space rock by 2029.
About asteroid Bennu
Asteroid 101955 Bennu is a small object thought to be a remnant of a much larger space rock.

It spans a diameter of 500 metres and approaches Earth in its journey around the Sun every six years.
Experts have estimated that there was a small chance, roughly 1 in 2,700, that it would collide with our planet in 2182, resulting in catastrophic impacts on Earth.
Asteroids like Bennu were formed around 4.5 billion years ago, around the time the solar system planets were being born from material leftover from planet formation. That means that studying asteroid material can help reveal the state and composition of matter around the infant sun in the early solar system.





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