Friday, June 21, 2024

A probe will drop samples from the asteroid “Bennu” in the US desert on Sunday.

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On Sunday, the American probe “OSIRIS-REx” dropped a valuable scientific payload in the Utah desert of the United States, the first samples of an asteroid brought to Earth by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It is the largest sample collected to date from a similar astronomical object.

Scientists believe that these samples, collected from the asteroid “Bennu” in 2020, will help clarify the origin of the solar system and the formation of Earth as a habitable planet.

The landing is scheduled to take place around 9 am local time (15:00 GMT) on Sunday at a military site normally used to test missiles.

The OSIRIS-REx probe sends a capsule containing samples to an altitude of 100,000 kilometers above Earth, about four hours before landing.

The capsule’s final descent into the Earth’s atmosphere takes 13 minutes as it enters at a speed of about 44,000 kilometers per hour, causing friction to raise the temperature to 2,700 degrees Celsius.

The descent, monitored by military sensors, will be slowed by two successive parachutes, providing a smooth landing if all goes well.

The landing strip is 58 kilometers long and 14 kilometers wide. Rich Burns, mission director at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said during a press conference in late August that it was “like shooting a dart across the basketball court and hitting it right in the middle of the goal.”

If it is clear the night before that the capsule may not hit the designated area it may be decided not to launch it. At this point, the probe will orbit the Sun before attempting to relaunch the capsule in 2025.

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Sandra Freund of Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the probe, cautioned that “(space) sample return missions are difficult because many problems can arise.”

NASA photo of a probe on the surface of the asteroid Bennu (AP).

Measures were taken in anticipation of the possibility of a “hard landing”. A test was conducted in late August, during which a replica capsule was dropped from a helicopter.

When the capsule lands on Earth, a team checks its condition before placing it in a net that will be lifted by a helicopter and transported to a temporary “clean room.”

The next day, the sample is flown to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

At this center, the capsule opens into another sealed chamber. Priority is given to not contaminating the sample with contaminants so as not to spoil the analysis and give false results. The process takes days.

NASA plans to hold a press conference on October 11 to announce the preliminary results.

However, part of the specimen will be preserved untouched so that future generations can study it using techniques not yet available.

“OSIRIS-REx” was launched in 2016, and in 2020, “Bennu” surprised scientists while collecting a sample for a few seconds, as the probe’s arm stuck to the surface of the asteroid, which showed that it was much less than its density. I thought.

But thanks to this, NASA expects the sample to contain about 250 grams of material, more than the original 60 gram target. According to project manager Melissa Morris, it is “the largest sample ever collected from a location outside lunar orbit”.

This mission is a first for the United States. But Japan has already arranged two. In 2020, the Hayabusa probe returned fine grains from asteroid Itogawa, and in 2020, Hayabusa 2 returned about 5.4 g from asteroid Ryuku.

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According to Melissa Morris, asteroids “Bennu” and “Ryuku” are similar in appearance, but “Bennu” may turn out to be completely different in its composition.

Asteroids are interesting because they are made of the original material of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago. Although these materials changed on Earth, asteroids remained the same.

Dante Lauretta, the lead scientist at the University of Arizona, said that “Bennu” is rich in carbon and that the sample brought back “may represent the seeds of life carried by these asteroids at the beginning of our planet.” to this wonderful biosphere.”

“Bennu”, which is 500 meters in diameter, approaches the Earth once every six years around the Sun.

There is a small risk (1 in 2700 chance) of a collision with Earth in 2182, which would have a catastrophic impact. It would be useful to provide more information about its composition. Last year, NASA managed to bump into an asteroid and deflect it from its path.

Stuart Wagner
Stuart Wagner
"Professional coffee fan. Total beer nerd. Hardcore reader. Alcohol fanatic. Evil twitter buff. Friendly tv scholar."

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