NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully landed on the asteroid Bennu on Tuesday to collect samples of its surface. and send them back to Earth in 2023. A great spatial milestone since the material collected has not changed since its origin, approximately 4,000 million years ago.
“It has been an incredible feat and we have advanced, both in science and engineering, and in our prospects for future missions to study these mysterious ancient narrators of the solar system.” Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Washington Headquarters.
NASA will not know until the next few days if the collection has been successful and the sample obtained of 60 grams is sufficient or it will have to make a second attempt in January 2021. It is “a piece of primordial rock that has witnessed the entire history of our solar system”, Add. In fact, the Administration has underlined in the release that Bennu “offers scientists a window into the early solar system” and yields new data “that could have helped to seed life on Earth.” But what about this asteroid?
1. Contains a high amount of carbon
Bennu is located 321 million kilometers from the Earth’s surface and is classified as a type B asteroid, “which means that it contains a large amount of carbon along with its various minerals”, explains NASA. Therefore, its high carbon content makes it very dark, creating a surface that only reflects 4% of the light.
To get an idea, Venus is considered the brightest planet in the solar system and reflects about 65% of incoming sunlight. The Earth, for its part, reflects approximately 30%. In this case, “Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid that has not undergone a drastic change that alters its composition, which means that above and below its deepest surface are chemicals and rocks from the birth of the solar system. “
2. A very old and close asteroid
This asteroid has undergone virtually no change in its composition for approximately 4.5 billion years. This means that it has hardly changed since its origin. “Not only is it close and carbonaceous, but it is also it is so primitive that they calculated that it was formed in the first 10 million years of the solar system’s history “.
3. Bennu is a “pile of rubble”
According to NASA’s classification, Bennu is considered a “pile of rubble”, that is, a celestial body composed of multiple pieces of rocky rubble “that gravity compressed”.
So, the asteroid is full of holes in its interior and 20 to 40% of its volume is empty space. This creates a danger that it will separate “if it begins to rotate much faster or if it interacts too much with a planetary body”, clarifies NASA.
4. Could you explain how life was formed
Being so old, this asteroid could contain molecules present “when life first formed on Earth”. That is why this mission is so important. All life forms on our planet are based on “chains of carbon atoms linked with oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and other elements.” However, the material they hope to get from Bennu does not “necessarily come from biology.”
5. Water is the most important resource
Bennu could contain large amounts of gold and platinum, compared to the surface of the Earth, and moreover, water is probably its most important resource. Due to the high cost of transporting material into space, if astronauts can extract water from an asteroid for life support and fuel, the cosmic afterlife is closer than ever to being accessible to humans “.
6. The Sun can cause its orbit to change
A day on this satellite lasts about four hours, so the area of the surface that faces the Sun changes constantly. “As Bennu continues to spin, it expels this heat, which gives the asteroid a little push toward the Sun” each year. Consequently, its orbit may change.
7. It is potentially dangerous
Bennu is classified as a potentially dangerous asteroid by NASA because it is a short distance from Earth. “Between the years 2175 and 2199, the probability that Bennu will hit Earth is only 1 in 2,700.” Although it is a small possibility, scientists want to continue following its trajectory.
8. Its surface is made up of very large rocks
This Tuesday’s feat has become a NASA milestone due to how extremely dangerous it is to take samples from Bennu, as its surface is composed of massive rocks. During the first observations made from Earth, the researchers suggested that it was composed of a ready surface of particles less than an inch in size. Shortly after, showed that it was covered by massive rocks, not small.
9. Throws particles into red space
One of the most peculiar characteristics of Bennu is that jets of particles twice a week, as verified by the navigation camera of the NASA spacecraft. This is extremely rare.
Researchers recently discovered that “sunlight can break up rocks in Bennu and that it has pieces of another asteroid scattered across its surface.”
10. It is named after an Egyptian deity
Why Bennu? It was named for a nine-year-old boy from North Carolina in 2013 after winning a contest by suggesting “that the arm and solar panels of the spacecraft’s display mechanism resemble the neck and wings in the illustrations of Bennu “.
It was about an ancient deity of Egyptian origin linked to the Sun, creation and rebirth that the ancient Egyptians represented as a gray heron.