With the new year, NASA began a space mission which will remain, if all goes well, for about two years. In the early hours of January 1st, a small NASA probe called Osiris-Rex entered the orbit of the small Asteroid Bennu, a space rock situated at 110 million kilometers from Earth.
The so-called Asteroid Bennu, although as old as the solar system, is very small, a spinning top of dust and rocks only half a kilometer in diameter that spins on itself in the immense space once every 4.3 hours. It is a small piece of something much bigger that was broken when it hit another celestial body a long time ago, in the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter.
“As Asteroid Bennu gravity is so small, other forces such as solar radiation and thermal pressure are more important,” NASA stated. Simulations play a fundamental role in that achievement, fed by the data obtained during the probe’s journey towards the celestial body and in the subsequent stage of nearby exploration.
Some asteroids are diamond-shaped, such as Bennu and Ryugu (which is being explored by the Japanese probe Hayabusa-2 at the moment). Other space rocks are peanut-shaped, such as Ultima Thule, for example, as the New Horizons mission revealed.
NASA Osiris-Rex Entered The Orbit Of Asteroid Bennu
All these space rocks represent a real physics lesson because their form responds to the forces that have acted on the matter they contain since the origins of the Solar System. That does not mean that experts can explain precisely how these bodies evolved, but missions such as the current ones will significantly contribute to increasing knowledge.
So far, NASA’s Osiris-Rex has already detected water on Bennu. In the coming months, it will map the asteroid with high definition, which will serve to choose a landing area with the goal of taking samples in the summer of 2020. If all goes well, the samples will reach Earth in 2023.
Landing successfully on Asteroid Bennu is not going to be easy. The surface of the space rock is full of stones, as NASA found out. On the other hand, the Japanese Hayabusa-2 probe, aiming Asteroid Ryugu to take soil samples in October, has also discovered that it would be challenging to land on that space rock.
However, NASA is going to find a landing place for the Osiris-Rex probe on Asteroid Bennu so that the US space agency would learn more about the formation of our solar system and our planet.
With over seven years of experience in online journalism, Vadim is passionate about everything related to science and the environment. For us, he will thus cover climate, environment, and science news, among others.