NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft has discovered ingredients for water on a nearby asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft has found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules part of the recipe for water and thus the potential for life embedded in the asteroid’s rocky surface.
OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft arrived at its destination asteroid Bennu on December 4. No spacecraft has ever orbited such a small cosmic body. Launched on September 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid which will help unveil the mysteries of our solar system’s formation.
“When samples of this material are returned by the mission to the earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system,” Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, said in a statement.
The spacecraft is aimed to at least collect 60g of dust and gravel. However, Osiris-Rex won’t be landing on asteroid Bennu but, rather use 3-metre mechanical arm to vacuum up particles in 2020. The spacecraft will head towards Earth in 2021.
“We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system,” planetary scientist Dante Lauretta from the University of Arizona, who is also OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said. Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.
“We’re really trying to understand the role that these carbon-rich asteroids played in delivering water to the earth and making it habitable,” Ms. Lauretta added.
On August 17, spacecraft’s PolyCam camera obtained the image from a distance of 2.2 million kilometres.
At Bennu, the spacecraft will spend the first-month performing fly-by of Bennu’s north pole, equator and south pole, at distances ranging between 11.8 and 4.4 miles (19 and 7 km) from the asteroid. The spacecraft will extensively survey the asteroid before the mission team identifies two possible sample sites, which will allow the team to pick one for sample collection, scheduled for July 2020. After the sample collection, the spacecraft will head back towards Earth before ejecting the “Sample Return Capsule” for landing in the Utah desert in September 2023.
The name of the spacecraft and asteroid come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.