NASA Deep Space Probe Reaches Asteroid Deemed Potential Earth Threat

For God’s sake fund it’ Former NASA astronaut makes dire plea to protect us from killer asteroids

The spacecraft will enter orbit around Bennu on December 31 - thus making Bennu, which is only about 492 metres across - or about the length of five football fields - the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft.

Once that's done, and assuming OSIRIS-REx doesn't hit the surface, the spacecraft will begin the long voyage back to Earth. At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now.

With gravity so weak, other factors could potentially knock OSIRIS-REx off course.

The data will help unveil more about the origins of the solar system and how to protect the Earth from a possible asteroid impact.

Bennu is also interesting to NASA for a separate reason - there's a small chance it could cause us major problems in the 22nd Century.

Scientists say the ancient asteroid could hold clues to the origin of life.

This set of 16 images shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's steady approach toward the asteroid Bennu during the last half of October 2018.

OSIRIS-REx will return to Earth in September 2023, dropping the sample container off for a high-speed plunge to the Utah Test and Training Range about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City in Utah. Once a site is selected, the spacecraft will land for about five seconds to collect a sample of the surface material, using a burst of nitrogen gas to liberate material from the surface into the sampler head.

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Deflecting the massive asteroid 101955 Bennu was the focus of recent research by a national planetary defense team.

OSIRIS-REx may be able to aid in preventing such events. It is not impossible that asteroids like it delivered the building blocks of life to the early Earth-the mission could help us investigate this theory.

It has been chasing the diamond-shaped body for two years, and will orbit it for another year before scooping some gravel from the asteroid's surface and sending it back to Earth.

NASA has collected comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples. That water or the asteroid's metals might one day serve as useful resources, so space explorers wouldn't need to bring these heavy materials with them.

Bennu is a carbonaceous primitive B-type asteroid with a cumulative 1-in-2,700 chance of impacting Earth between the years 2175 and 2199, according to NASA's 2016 Earth Impact Risk Summary.

A lead flight controller at the Lockheed Martin control center in Colorado looked at an instrument panel and announced, "We have arrived". It is about 1,600 feet (488 meters) wide and most likely broke away from a larger asteroid between Mars and Jupiter a couple of billion years ago. OSIRIS-REx will cautiously approach its target before slipping into orbit for more than two years of scientific observations. This could also explain how it ended up as a near-Earth asteroid.

"Now that we've arrived, we will explore [Bennu's] surface through a series of flybys and orbital campaigns that allow us to determine which areas on Bennu are the safest and have material that can be ingested by our sampling mechanism", Daniella DellaGiustina of the University of Arizona told Sky and Telescope.

In mid-2020, scientists will direct Osiris-Rex to drop down to the object and grab at least 60g of regolith, or "top soil".

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