NASA to drop to Earth samples of asteroid that could be the "father" of life

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
An artist's impression of OSIRIS-REx landing on Bennu and a real photo of its surface. Source: NASA/collage by OBOZREVATEL

On Sunday, September 24, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will drop a "mini-fridge-sized capsule" containing about 250 grams of rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu to the Earth's surface. This space object is tens of millions of kilometers away, so the entire space "delivery" mission took more than 7 years.

According to a statement from the US space agency, the valuable cargo is planned to be dropped over the Utah desert. It is expected to happen around 17:00 Kyiv time. However, the details of what exactly the spacecraft has transmitted to Earth will be revealed only during a press conference on October 11.

OSIRIS-REx started its long mission on September 8, 2016, and two years later arrived at Bennu, an asteroid that has a diameter of about 500 meters and orbits the Sun every six Earth years.

It is a well-known asteroid because it has a fairly high probability of colliding with the Earth. However, not in the near future. According to estimates, it could happen between 2169 and 2199.

But the decision to study it was made for other reasons. Bennu is an extremely old asteroid. The material from which it was formed dates back at least 4.5 billion years. That is, its formation occurred at about the same time as the birth of our solar system. So scientists do not rule out that it can tell us a lot of interesting things about those times.

Asteroid Bennu

There are also suggestions that the material from Bennu may contain the so-called building blocks of life - organic molecules, which, according to the theory of an asteroid falling to Earth, could have given rise to primitive life on our planet. Bennu could hardly have been a kind of "father" for all of humanity, since it would have had to fall to Earth, but it is possible that some piece of the asteroid could have broken off during its passage near our planet and brought the foundations for life here.

Bennu is also convenient because it is relatively close to Earth, especially when compared to most asteroids in the Solar System, which are mostly located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. This made it an ideal candidate for study.

OSIRIS-REx first arrived at Bennu in 2018 and spent the next two years orbiting the asteroid, and in 2020 performed a Touch-And-Go maneuver, during which the spacecraft briefly landed on the asteroid, collected samples, and then used onboard engines to break away from the space rock.

A year later, OSIRIS-REx flew around the asteroid for the last time and set off on its return trip to Earth.

At the same time, the OSIRIS-REx mission will not be completed on September 24. The spacecraft will drop a capsule with a space cargo for NASA, but it will not return to the planet, but will go on a new space journey to the asteroid Apophis. NASA expects the spacecraft to arrive at its new space "friend" in 2029.

If everything goes smoothly, this will be the first time NASA will take an asteroid sample and bring it back to Earth. Earlier, a similar effort was already made by the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft, which took samples of the Itokawa asteroid back in 2010.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL reported that the asteroid Dimorphos, which was shot down by NASA, began to behave chaotically and is likely to fall.

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