NASA’s asteroid-sampling spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, has captured its very first pictures of the deep-space goal it’s at present hurtling towards — a virtually half-mile-wide area rock orbiting the Solar named Bennu. It’s a giant step for the car because it prepares for its arrival on the asteroid in December of this yr.
Because the image was taken from so far-off — at a distance of 1.Four million miles — Bennu seems as only a few pixels of sunshine transferring throughout area. However for the OSIRIS-REx staff, it exhibits that their spacecraft is heading in the right direction and that Bennu is correct the place they anticipated. “Many people have been working for years and years and years to get this primary picture down,” Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx on the College of Arizona, Tucson, mentioned throughout a press convention on Friday.
Launched in September of 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is tasked with snagging a small pattern of fabric from the floor of Bennu after which bringing these valuable rocks to Earth. The purpose is to research this pattern to be taught extra about what our Photo voltaic System was like when it was simply forming 4.5 billion years in the past. Asteroids like Bennu are thought to have stayed largely the identical for the reason that early days of the Photo voltaic System, and meaning they might include the identical supplies that served because the constructing blocks of the planets. Scientists additionally imagine that asteroids carry natural matter that will have been answerable for sparking life right here on Earth. So analyzing the elements of asteroids might inform us how our Photo voltaic System got here to be the way in which it’s at present.
The OSIRIS-REx staff hopes to be taught as a lot as they will about our cosmic neighborhood from a really small pattern of Bennu — as much as 4.Four kilos of fabric. And grabbing such a tiny quantity of rocks requires a mission that spans a few years — OSIRIS-REx has been touring to Bennu for almost two years now. After arriving on the asteroid on December third, the spacecraft will insert itself into the rock’s orbit on December 31st after which spend all of 2019 doing an in depth mapping marketing campaign of the asteroid’s floor. As soon as it finds the correct spot to pattern, OSIRIS-REx will shortly faucet Bennu’s floor someday in mid-2020, seize its prize, after which head again to Earth, touchdown within the Utah desert in 2023.
Earlier than all that occurs, although, the mission staff is making an attempt to get a greater understanding of what Bennu is like. OSIRIS-REx is now the closest it’s ever been to Bennu — even nearer than the asteroid has ever been to Earth. “We at the moment are within the neighborhood of the asteroid,” Lauretta mentioned in a press convention on Friday.
Because it will get nearer, OSIRIS-REx will search for any mud plumes or clouds of fabric that could be surrounding Bennu. Up to now, Lauretta says the realm seems clear, which is nice information for the mission, since OSIRIS-REx is meant to rise up near the asteroid’s floor. The spacecraft may also proceed to picture Bennu to get a greater concept of its form. Then in October, the car will start the primary of 4 maneuvers that can put it on the correct path to get into Bennu’s orbit.
So this asteroid-sample mission is about to warmth up. And shortly we might get much more detailed pictures of the asteroid that OSIRIS-REx will likely be hanging round for the following two years.