Tuesday , January 19 2021

NASA collects an asteroid space dirt that could kill us all



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Compilation image of Bennu taken by OSIRIS-REx at a distance of 330 km (205 miles).

NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

If the Earth was going to be expelled from an asteroid in the next centennial years, Bennu could be the one to do it.

Officially known as 101955 Bennu, the asteroid is about the size of the Empire State Building and has a "non-trivial probability of affecting the earth" according to NASA. In fact, Bennu is ranked second in the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale, which is actually the Earth's ranking of "what will eliminate us all".

So, if we had the opportunity to visit it, of course we would send a tin of miners to blow it, instead of to travel seven years to collect some space dirt from the top?

But remember, here we are talking about NASA.


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In this week's Watch This Space episode, look at OSIRIS-REx – NASA's mission to contact Bennu (for all five seconds) to collect dust from the surface and bring it back to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx's Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism (TAGSAM) will contact the asteroid and spray gas on its surface to sweep up a sample of dust.

NASA

It may sound a long way to go for dust, but this material (known as "regolite") could tell us a lot. According to the NASA, asteroids are basically "the remnants of the solar system of formation", so their composition can illuminate the history of our solar system, as it was formed and even as planets as the Earth was.

OSIRIS-REX (which means Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Security Recovery Explorer Spacecraft) came to Bennu on December 3 and will spend a little less than one year investigating the asteroid for a suitable space to play. When the perfect place is found, the spaceship will contact the surface of the asteroid for about five seconds, sending a nitrogen explosion to torment dust and stones on the surface to capture in the spacecraft and return to the ground.

At the end of its seven-year mission, NASA scientists will be able to examine this material and learn more about where we came and possibly even find "molecular predecessors to the origin of the life and territories of the oceans" according to NASA.

If you want to learn more about the other amazing things NASA and other space agencies are up to you, you can check the full Watch This Space series on YouTube.

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