NASA spacecraft meets with asteroid today

NASA spacecraft meets with asteroid today

The spacecraft will enter orbit around Bennu on December 31 -thus making Bennu, which is only about 1,600 feet (492 meters) across - or about the length of five football fields - the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft.

OSIRIS-REx was within 12 miles of Bennu's surface - about the distance between the White House and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, which manages the spacecraft.

Bennu is about 1,600 feet (500 meters) in diameter, about the size of a small mountain.

The spacecraft, technically the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is orbiting the asteroid Bennu, a diamond-shaped chunk of space rock with a varying orbit that keeps it around 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) from Earth. The spacecraft will spend nearly a year surveying the asteroid with five scientific instruments with the goal of selecting a location that is safe and scientifically interesting to collect the sample.

Although Bennu has been characterized well by ground-based instruments over the years, "maneuvering around a small body that basically has no gravity is a very challenging endeavor", OSIRIS-REx Deputy Principal Investigator Heather Enos, of the University of Arizona, told Space.com.

Scientists believe that asteroids may have delivered the ingredients for life to the young Earth - and hope to analyse samples from Bennu to prove the theory. The new data will help scientists better understand how asteroids form and evolve. There is enough nitrogen for three attempts if the first is unsuccessful. However, the space probe's main mission will not begin until next year.

OSIRIS-REx has a camera suite, a laser altimeter for 3D mapping, a thermal emission spectrometer to take temperature and mineral content and spectrometers to measure X-rays, almost infrared and visible light.

CU Boulder scientists have a front row seat today to observe a NASA spacecraft as it arrives at the asteroid Bennu, coming to within 4.5 miles of the space rock.

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This will be packed away in a sterile capsule to be returned home in 2023.

Then, in 2020, it will reach out with its robotic arm and touch the asteroid in what NASA has described as a "gentle high-five", aiming to collect about two ounces (60 grams) of material from the asteroid's surface, and return it to Earth for further study.

For the next year, the probe will circle and study Bennu, executing a series of flybys to a close look at some its unique features.

NASA fears that the asteroid, which has the potential to wipe out a country on Earth, could hit our planet within the next 200 years, with the next close flyby in 2135.

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Scientists estimate there is a one-in-2,700 chance of the asteroid slamming catastrophically into Earth 166 years from now.

The spacecraft launched on September 8, 2016 at 19:05 EST aboard an Atlas V rocket. It is a tool designed pinch the asteroid, take a sample of it and return it back to Earth for study. The seven-year, $800-million mission is also meant to help assess the feasibility of asteroid mining and to help scientists find ways to keep large asteroids from colliding with Earth. Those like Bennu contain natural resources, such as water, organics and metals.

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