NASA is set to touch on an asteroid for the first time

This image shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's sampling arm – called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – and asteroid Bennu during the mission’s Checkpoint Rehearsal.

Launched in 2016, NASA’s mission is finally to reach its goal: to touch an asteroid.

On Tuesday, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will attempt to collect a sample from the asteroid Pennu. This is NASA’s first time Asteroid model return task.

“This is a very bold task,” says Dean Regas, a Cincinnati observatory astronomer and editor. Seen above Web light. “It sends a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid, where it touches the bottom, collects some samples and then flies all the way and sends these samples back to Earth.”

NASA explains that asteroids are the remnants of the building blocks that formed our solar system. The goal is to learn more about their organic makeup and the origin of life. Regas points out that it is uncertain what the models contain and what they can teach us.

“Is it going to bring back some elements that could have led to things that were at the beginning of the earth, or are we going to see something completely different? It’s unknown in many ways,” says Regas.

It is also important to be aware of asteroids because they are dangerous. NASA says Penn has one of 2,700 chances of hitting Earth in the late 2100s. The data obtained from the samples will help scientists learn more about protecting our planet.

“We are going to look at this asteroid very carefully and see how its orbit changes over time,” says Regas. “This may actually lead us to some ideas of how meteorites can be ejected. Things we can see coming towards Earth may be hitting us. We need to do some exercises to see if we can actually move an asteroid. This is the best chance to avoid these impacts.”

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Although this is NASA’s first asteroid model collection and return mission, this is not the first time. The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa In 2010 an asteroid returned the first models, and Hayabusa-2 It is scheduled to return to Earth on December 6, 2020.

Just before OSIRIS-REx returns with its prototypes, assume that the process is going as planned. Launched on September 8, 2016, the spacecraft is expected to return to Earth on September 24, 2023.

In comparison, the asteroid is not far from Earth. Its orbital period is 1.2 years, which comes close to Earth every six years. So, why does the task take so long? The timing must be right, says Regas.

“The way our two orbits are, we have to go this route to access it very slowly,” Regas explains. “It’s got a small gravitational pull well. If you miss it you have to fly right, so you have to go at the right speed to catch it and enter its orbit. Flying for small objects is very complicated.”

Pennu is about 510 m in diameter from its poles. In comparison, NASA points out that the Empire State Building is 443 m.

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About the Author: Cary Douglas

Cary Douglas is a reporter who covers everything from oil trading to China's biggest conglomerates and technology companies. Originally from Chicago, he is a graduate of New York University's business and economic reporting program.

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