WASHINGTON: After a four-year journey, Nasa’s robotic spacecraft Osiris-Rex briefly touched down on asteroid Bennu’s boulder-strewn floor on Tuesday to gather rock and dirt samples in a precision operation 200 million miles (330 million kilometres) from Earth.
The so-called “Touch-And-Go” or TAG maneuver was managed by Lockheed Martin House in Denver, Colorado, the place at 6:12pm an announcer stated: “Touchdown declared. Sampling is in progress,” and scientists erupted in celebration.
The historic mission was 12 years within the making and rested on a vital 16 second interval the place the spacecraft carried out a fragile autonomous maneuver to seize its valuable payload: at the least 60 grams (two ounces), or a candy-bar sized quantity of regolith that scientists hope will assist unravel the origins of our photo voltaic system.
If Osiris-Rex efficiently comes dwelling in September 2023, it would have collected the most important pattern returned from house for the reason that Apollo period.
“We think we actually might be coming back with a baby picture of what the solar system was like, of what our chemistry was like, billions of years ago,” Nasa scientist Michelle Thaller stated.
“We’re looking for our own origins out there, and that’s why we’ve gone so far to bring a bit of Bennu back.” The spacecraft, in regards to the dimension of a big van, slowed right down to a crawl of simply 10 centimeters (4 inches) per second on the ultimate section of its descent into the Nightingale crater on the north pole of the asteroid, which is 490 meters (1,600 toes) in diameter.
For dimension comparability, that’s only a bit greater than the Empire State constructing.
Osiris-Rex eased its robotic arm right down to a goal zone simply eight meters (26 toes) in diameter, then fired pressurised nitrogen to agitate the floor materials and catch its pattern.
Then the spacecraft fired its thrusters to again away from Bennu’s floor to finish what scientists playfully described as a “boop.” Mission management and the general public realized of all this about 18.5 minutes later than it truly occurred due to the time it takes for the alerts to return from the house rock, which for essentially the most half orbits between Venus and Mars.
The primary pictures will solely be obtainable Wednesday as soon as the probe is additional away and has the next information transmission fee.
We should wait till Saturday to search out out if Osiris-Rex has succeeded in accumulating the specified quantity of mud.
Scientists need at the least 60 grams however the spacecraft is able to choosing up as a lot as two kilograms, or 5 kilos.
If it seems the spacecraft didn’t acquire sufficient, it would have one other go on January 12, 2021, at a backup web site which is one other comparatively boulder-free space close to the rock’s equator.
Scientists are enthusiastic about analysing the composition of the asteroids within the photo voltaic system as a result of they’re made from the identical supplies that fashioned the planets.
It’s “almost a Rosetta stone, something that’s out there and tells the history of our entire Earth, of the solar system during the last billions of years,” stated Nasa’s chief scientist, Thomas Zurbuchen.
Laboratories on Earth will be capable of perform way more excessive powered evaluation of their bodily and chemical traits, stated Nasa’s planetary science division director Lori Glaze.
Not all samples shall be analysed instantly, like these introduced again from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, which Nasa continues to be opening up 50 years later.
Nasa selected this explicit asteroid as a result of it’s conveniently shut and likewise historical: scientists calculated that it fashioned within the first 10 million years of our photo voltaic system’s historical past, 4.5 billion years in the past.
Printed in Daybreak, October 22nd, 2020