Banner image: Artist's conception of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collecting a sample of loose, rocky material from the surface of the asteroid Bennu.
Scientists have estimated that in 2135 Bennu could pass closer to Earth than the moon, which orbits at a distance of about 4,02,336 km, and possibly come closer still some time between 2175 and 2195.
Today's NASA stream will begin at approximately 11:45 a.m. EST and will last for around a half hour. The spacecraft will then make two more polar flybys, giving the team on Earth a chance to get to get comfortable with the spacecraft's navigational capabilities near Bennu.
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.
The goal of both missions is to learn more about how the original solar nebula coalesced to form the sun and its retinue of planets, asteroids and comets, giving scientists a better understanding of the raw materials that went into Earth's construction and even the eventual development of life. Scientists say the mission will tell us about the origins of the solar system and how to protect Earth from asteroid impacts.More news: Four Dead Amid Car Blast, Shooting in Southern Iranian Port of Chabahar
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The craft will obtain somewhere between 2 ounces and 4.4 pounds of soil sample from the surface of Bennu using a robotic arm that will blast the surface with a puff of nitrogen gas and collect the pieces that fly off. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland manages the overall mission.
On Monday, the mission team commanded the probe to fire its thrusters for 20 seconds to match the asteroid's speed and direction, bringing the spacecraft to about 7km from Bennu at closest approach.
After backing away, OSIRIS-REx will direct the robot arm to place the collector inside an aerodynamic sample return capsule.
"It's been a long time coming for the arrival, and we're really looking forward to the next chapter of this mission", Heather Enos, the OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator from the University of Arizona, said in a NASA press video.
Achievement unlocked and "we have arrived", NASA announced on its official Twitter account. For example, the probe's measurements, and those of researchers studying the returned sample, should reveal a great deal about the resource potential of Bennu-like asteroids. Once back on Earth, scientists will be able to study a sample untouched since the early Solar System.
"Bennu is likely rich in organic molecules, which are made of chains of carbon bonded with atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, and other elements in a chemical recipe that makes all known living things". It launched in September 2016 and will spend two years up close and personal with Bennu.
"When we understand Bennu, we will understand something fundamental about our solar system".