NASA probe Osiris-Rex becomes ancient asteroid's first visitor

First Ever VIDEO Filmed From Asteroid Surface

OSIRIS-REx fired its thrusters for a small burn, putting it about 4.3 miles from Bennu, marking the end of its journey to the asteroid. It launched in September 2016 and will spend two years up close and personal with Bennu.

Using a circular device much like a car's air filter, and a reverse vacuum to stir up and collect dust, the device aims to grab about two ounces (60 grams) of material from the asteroid's surface, and return it to Earth for further study. The rapid rotation also sends small rocks on the asteroid's surface flying into space, meaning there's nothing there for the spacecraft to collect. Bennu's nearly 500 meters in diameter, and rotates only once every 4.3 hours.

Researchers will have more information about the asteroid from the spacecraft soon and present the updated details at a scientific meeting on Monday next week in Washington.

This set of 16 images shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's steady approach toward the asteroid Bennu during the last half of October 2018.

In July 2020, NASA intends to send OSIRIS-REx to the surface of Bennu and gather 4.4 pounds of rock, put the rocks in a sturdy capsule, and then blast back to Earth.

If all goes well, the craft will bring the sample back to Earth in September 2023.

The mission's navigation team will use the preliminary survey of Bennu to practice the delicate task of navigating around the asteroid.

Note: OSIRIS-REx is not landing on the asteroid today. It is a tool designed pinch the asteroid, take a sample of it and return it back to Earth for study.

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The spacecraft is to investigate the asteroid, which is a third of a mile wide, and is thought to be rich in organic molecules dating from the start of the solar system.

Moreover, the mission could also help them better understand the threat that asteroids may pose to humans on Earth, since Bennu itself may impact Earth within a few centuries.

Scientists estimate there is a one-in-2,700 chance of the asteroid crashing into Earth 166 years from now. That solar energy is believed to be nudging the asteroid ever closer toward Earth's path each time the asteroid makes its closest approach to our planet every six years. Those like Bennu contain natural resources, such as water, organics and metals. It's because of objects like Bennu that these resources were delivered to Earth during its formation.

Bennu probably broke off of a larger asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter a couple billion years ago.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - After a two-year chase, a NASA spacecraft arrived Monday at the ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years. This could also explain how it ended up as a near-Earth asteroid.

Among OSIRIS-REx's instruments are a tools to measure visible and near-infrared light, temperature, mineral and chemical content, X-rays (to explore its composition), a three-camera suite to help map the asteroid an an altimeter that will help scan the surface to create 3D models.

"Now that we've arrived, we will explore [Bennu's] surface through a series of flybys and orbital campaigns that allow us to determine which areas on Bennu are the safest and have material that can be ingested by our sampling mechanism", Daniella DellaGiustina of the University of Arizona told Sky and Telescope.

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