Successful Return of Asteroid Bennu Rock Samples Marks Milestone in NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission

Successful Return of Rock Samples from Asteroid Bennu Marks the End of OSIRIS-REx Mission

On Sunday, September 24, at 9:52 pm, a capsule from the OSIRIS-REx probe safely landed on Earth, carrying precious rock samples from the asteroid Bennu. The conclusion of this historic mission, which spanned over 7 years, has been deemed a resounding success.

Weighing in at a total of 250 grams, these rock samples represent the largest amount ever retrieved from another celestial body, second only to the samples collected during the six Apollo missions to the moon. Notably, this endeavor also marks NASA’s first successful collection of rocks from an asteroid.

Speaking about the significance of these samples, Dr. Stephanie Getty, Director of Solar System Exploration at NASA’s Goddard Space Center, emphasized the importance of the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu, which is believed to have formed around 4.5 billion years ago. She expressed, “This set of rock samples from Bennu provides a unique opportunity to unravel the mysteries surrounding the formation of our solar system.”

While there are meteorites on Earth originating from various objects within the solar system, including carbonaceous asteroids, Dr. Getty highlighted the importance of collecting fresh, uncontaminated samples directly from the asteroid’s surface, away from Earth’s atmosphere. The sample retrieval team safely brought the capsule, exposed to temperatures over 5,000 degrees Celsius and forces of 32 G during re-entry and landing, to a specially designed clean room in Utah’s desert.

To maintain the integrity of the samples, nitrogen gas was utilized throughout the process, as it minimally interacts with other chemicals and aids in preserving the capsule’s cleanliness. The next crucial step involves selecting samples and distributing them to various laboratories worldwide, including NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Aside from shedding light on the origins of our solar system, the rock samples from Bennu hold potential in unraveling the source of organic materials and water, vital for sustaining life on Earth. Additionally, this knowledge can enhance strategies for safeguarding our planet, especially since Bennu is classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid with future close approaches.

With the landing of the rock capsule from Bennu, the OSIRIS-REx mission formally draws to a close. However, the space probe sets its sights on its next mission: exploring the asteroid Apophis, now renamed OSIRIS-APEX. This asteroid, approximately 330 meters in diameter, gained attention due to its initial 2.7% chance of colliding with Earth on April 13, 2029. Subsequent studies have ruled out an impact, but it will pass by at an immensely close distance of 31,600 kilometers, potentially visible to the naked eye.

OSIRIS-APEX will venture into deep space to adjust its trajectory for a detailed examination of Apophis during its close approach to Earth. The mission aims to study Apophis’ orbital period, rotation rate, and surface composition, providing valuable insights for future planetary defense strategies.

While OSIRIS-APEX won’t retrieve rock samples from the Apophis asteroid, it will descend to its surface, using a propulsion system to stir up dust for further analysis. There is also the possibility of additional probes being sent to study Apophis during its close passage.

NASA’s Asteroid Exploration Season Continues

The successful landing of the OSIRIS-REx capsule heralds the beginning of NASA’s asteroid exploration season. On October 5, the agency is scheduled to launch the Psyche spacecraft, marking the first-ever mission dedicated to exploring a metallic asteroid. Following that, the Lucy spacecraft will conduct a flyby of the Dinkinesh asteroid on November 1, 2023, before journeying to the Trojan asteroid group, which shares an orbit with Jupiter.

Dante Loretta, the principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission, expressed his elation, saying, “Today is a significant milestone, not only for the OSIRIS-REx mission team, but for the entire scientific community. Bringing back rock samples from Bennu showcases our collective potential when we work together.”

He further emphasized that the completion of this remarkable mission is just the beginning of a new chapter, as scientists now have the opportunity to study these rock samples and unlock the mysteries dating back to the birth of the solar system.

Image: NASA


On Sunday, September 24, at 9:52 pm, a capsule from the OSIRIS-REx probe containing rock samples from the asteroid Bennu. return to land safely on Earth The first mission which lasted more than 7 years ended successfully.

The rock sample totaled 250 grams, making it the largest amount of rock ever returned to Earth from another planet. It is second only to the astronauts’ voyages to collect samples from the moon on the six Apollo missions. This is the first time that NASA has been able to bring rocks from an asteroid back to Earth.

Dr Stephanie Getty, Director of Solar System Exploration at NASA’s Goddard Space Center, told THE STANDARD: “Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid that formed early. of the solar system, or about 4,500 million years ago This makes us believe that this set of rock samples will help answer the question of the formation of the solar system.”

Today, the world has meteorites that come from different objects. throughout the solar system Including carbonaceous asteroids, but Dr Getty said that “collecting fresh samples from the surface of the asteroid and bringing it back to Earth uncontaminated with the outer atmosphere. It is a very important goal for the this mission.” When the capsule landed in the middle of the desert in Utah, the team rescued the capsule and moved it back to a temporary clean room created to contain this particular set of rock samples.

Even on landing, the rock samples are well kept at their temperature. The outside of the heat shield faces temperatures of over 5,000 degrees Celsius and forces of 32 G during its passage through the atmosphere and landing on Earth. But the mission team also used nitrogen gas. which almost does not interact with other chemicals Come and help keep the sample capsule clean. while waiting to be taken to a clean room at the Johnson Space Center Selecting samples and distributing them to different laboratories. Around the world is next.

As well as studying to understand the origin of the solar system, samples of rock from the asteroid Bennu can help shed light on the origin of the organic material and water found in abundance on this type of planet which is responsible for life on the Earth. The information can also be used to improve plans for protecting the world. Because Bennu is classified as one of the potentially dangerous asteroids for Earth. From both close orbits there will be close passes to Earth in the future.

Landing of a rock capsule from the planet Bennu This marks the official end of the OSIRIS-REx mission, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Safety-Regolith Explorer. But the space probe is still aiming for its next mission. Under the new name OSIRIS-APEX or change the reverse to Apophis Explorer, which means exploring the asteroid Apophis.

The spacecraft’s new asteroid is approximately 330 meters across and has made headlines for its 2.7% chance of hitting Earth on April 13, 2029. However, further studies have confirmed that the asteroid will not hit the Earth. But it will fly by at a distance of 31,600 kilometers, which is considered very close. For an asteroid this size And people on Earth might be able to see it pass through the sky with the naked eye.

OSIRIS-APEX will return to deep space to adjust the orbit to examine Apophis at a time when this asteroid came close to Earth. It will study the orbital period, rotation rate and surface composition in detail. In order to better understand this asteroid as well as being important information for plans to protect the world in the future

However, since the spacecraft sent a capsule containing rock samples back to Earth, OSIRIS-APEX will not collect rocks from the Apophis asteroid. However, the craft will touch down on the surface. and uses a propulsion system to kick up rock dust So that the equipment on board can be studied further. Additionally, there is a chance that the world will send additional probes to study during the proximity.

The OSIRIS-REx landing marks the start of NASA’s asteroid exploration season. On October 5, NASA plans to launch its Psyche spacecraft to explore the asteroid Psyche. This is the first mission to explore a metallic asteroid in history. This will be followed by Lucy’s flyby of the Dinkinesh asteroid on November 1, 2023, the spacecraft’s first target. Before traveling to the Trojan asteroid group in the same orbit as Jupiter.

Dante Loretta, principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission, said: “Today is a great milestone. Not only with the OSIRIS-REx mission team, but with the entire scientific community. Bringing rock samples from Bennu back to Earth It shows what we can do when we work together.

“Although this is the conclusion of a great mission, But remember, this is only the beginning of the next chapter. Because now we have the opportunity to study these rock samples. and solve mysteries all the way back to the beginning of the solar system,” Loretta concluded.

Image: NASA

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