In the distant future, Earth may face the potential threat of an asteroid collision, as scientists study the enigmatic space rock named Bennu. While this may sound alarming, rest assured that this event is projected to occur over 150 years from now.
A Precious Sample:
On Sunday, a remarkable achievement took place when a fragment from the asteroid Bennu made a gentle landing in the Utah desert. This feat was made possible by the NASA spacecraft OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer), which successfully collected a portion of Bennu’s surface on October 20, 2020, in an unexpectedly explosive landing.
Initial expectations about Bennu’s surface, based on two years of observation by OSIRIS-REx and insights gained from a Japanese mission to asteroid Itokawa, proved to be somewhat off the mark. Despite descending at a rate of just 10 centimeters per second, the spacecraft created a substantial crater, ejecting tonnes of rocks and debris. Meanwhile, its thrusters stirred up particles, causing temporary instrument malfunctions.
Fortunately, the entire operation lasted a mere 30 seconds, and OSIRIS-REx emerged unscathed.
A Fluid Surface:
This unplanned manoeuvre offered scientists valuable insights into Bennu’s perplexing characteristics. Contrary to initial expectations, the asteroid’s surface behaved more like a fluid than a solid, challenging scientific assumptions.
Scientific Analysis Ahead:
The collected sample, safely tucked within a capsule, will soon be transported from the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range, located 70 miles west of Salt Lake City, to NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston. Specialised tools, capable of analysing material smaller than a grain of sand, have been developed for this purpose.
Unlocking Cosmic Secrets:
The scientific community anticipates that Bennu, estimated to be 4.5 billion years old, will offer crucial insights into the early solar system’s formation. Essentially serving as a cosmic time capsule, this asteroid holds the potential to reveal profound mysteries about our universe.
As NASA embarks on a two-year journey of in-depth analysis of the Bennu sample, we can rest assured that any potential collision with Earth remains a distant concern, with over 150 years before such an event could even become a possibility.