The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (Nasa) deep space probe has reached an asteroid which has a potential to collide with Earth. Nasa’s deep space explorer called Osiris-Rex, short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, flew On Monday (December 3) to a skyscraper-sized asteroid believed to hold organic compounds that are fundamental to life.
Nasa’s deep space probe Osiris-Rex was launched in September 2016. Osiris-Rex in 2016 embarked on a never done before mission. The seven-year mission involved a close-up survey of the asteroid Bennu and collection of sample from Bennu’s surface and return to Earth for study.
Bennu is a rocky mass which is roughly a third of a mile wide and shaped like a massive oaknut. It orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth. The asteroid is thought to be rich in carbon-based organic molecules that date back to the earliest days of the solar system.
It is believed that on this asteroid, water which is another vital component to the evolution of life may also be trapped in the asteroid’s minerals.
ASTEROIDS COLLIDING WITH EARTH
The boffins believe that asteroids and comets when crashed into early Earth delivered organic compounds and water that seeded planet for life; atomic-level analyses of samples from Bennu could help prove that theory
WHY STUDY BENNU?
Now on Earth, we don’t entertain things that harm us. That’s a general behaviour of Earthlings. But, like the existential virtuoso Albert Camus once said, “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” So, there are scientists who have more existential reason to study Bennu.
Let’s start with destruction; scientists estimate there is a one-in-2,700 chance of the asteroid slamming catastrophically into Earth 166 years from now.
That probability ranks Bennu No 2 on Nasa’s catalogue of 72 near-Earth objects potentially capable of hitting the planet.
BENNU’S COLLISION WITH EARTH
Osiris-Rex will help scientists understand how heat radiated from the sun is gently steering Bennu on an increasingly menacing course through the solar system. That solar energy is believed to be nudging the asteroid ever closer toward Earth’s path each time the asteroid makes its closest approach to our planet every six years.
“By the time we collect the sample in 2020 we will have a much better idea of the probability that Bennu would impact Earth in the next 150 years,” Reuters quoted mission spokeswoman Erin Morton as saying.
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.
OSIRIS-REX AND BENNU
Osiris-Rex reached the “preliminary survey” phase of its mission on Monday, soaring to within 12 miles of the asteroid. The spacecraft will pass just 1.2 miles from Bennu in late December, where it will enter the object’s gravitational pull.
Reuters reported that from that stage, the spacecraft will begin gradually tightening its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet of its surface. Osiris-Rex will then extend its robot arm to snatch a sample of Bennu’s terrain in a “touch-and-go” maneuver set for July 2020.
Osiris-Rex will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert, US in September 2023.
BRUTE FORCE VS EARTH-BOUND ASTEROIDS
NASA is developing a strategy for deflecting Bennu, or any other asteroid found to be on a collision course with Earth, by use of a special spacecraft to slam into the object hard enough to nudge it onto a safer path, Lindley Johnson, a planetary defense officer with Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate, said.
“But this is all dependent on the outcome of a very close approach that Bennu has with Earth in September 2135,” Johnson said.