“Samples of Asteroid Bennu Help Clarify Whether Life Came from Space”

NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission is approaching This Sunday To provide Earth with cargo of incalculable scientific value. They are models of the ancient asteroid Bennu, the size of the Empire State Building, located at the edge of the solar system. Yasmina Martos, a geological and planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland (USA), says that this accumulation of dust and rock over generations can help us understand the origin of the Sun. Also to protect us from danger from system and space.

This is not the first time samples have been collected from an asteroid. What’s so special about Bennu?

The Japanese probe Hayabusa2 collected about 5 grams of material from the asteroid Ryugu in 2018, but the mission collected much more: a quarter of a kilo. It is particularly interesting because it is the mission that will bring back a large number of samples from an object beyond the Moon. Additionally, Bennu’s characteristics are also different. It is a carbon-rich asteroid that contains the basic elements for life.

– What are we going to learn from this?

– There is a theory that life on Earth originated from the impact of asteroids loaded with these elements, so the Bennu samples will allow us to explore that possibility. And learn more about the origin of our solar system.

—Bennu is considered dangerous, can knowing more about it help protect Earth?

-Indeed, if there is an asteroid with a high probability of colliding with Earth in the future, it can be tracked very precisely or techniques can be developed. The probability of a collision with Bennu by 2200 is 0.05%.

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– Is there anything that surprises you about Bennu?

With so much radiation, its surface was expected to look like beach sand as it orbited the uninhabited area. But we found it full of big rocks. In particular, I find the fine resolution at which this asteroid’s surface was able to be probed incredible. When we imagine a satellite orbiting the Earth, it is always hundreds of kilometers away, but the spacecraft orbited Bennu, about 500 meters long, 200 meters from its surface. It’s like looking at it through high-resolution binoculars.

– What does capsule withdrawal look like?

– Very exciting. The spacecraft will make its closest approach to Earth on Sunday, releasing a capsule that will enter the atmosphere at 28,000 miles per hour, and two minutes later it will deploy a parachute to stabilize itself. Five minutes later he would open another large parachute, which would help him land in the Utah desert. All this lasts about 13 minutes. Twenty minutes before entering the atmosphere, four helicopters will monitor the ship’s heat signature in the atmosphere, which can then be tracked visually.

– Where are these samples taken and who is going to study them?

– On Monday they will visit the NASA Johnson Center in Houston. More than 200 people participated in this study. The models will be cataloged first, which is estimated to take six months. Some of what arrives will be analyzed immediately, before being cataloged, to make it as pristine as possible, but the rest will be studied for decades.

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– The Osiris-Rex did not end his course here. Then you will visit the asteroid Apophis.

– It is wonderful that this optimization of work can be done. After releasing the capsule, Osiris-Rex will use Earth’s gravity to reverse the maneuver and accelerate to Apophis, where it will arrive in 2029. Apophis is completely different from Bennu. It doesn’t take samples, but it gets close to the surface and picks up dust, or reads what’s in it, to see what’s become of it.

– Asteroids are used for commercial purposes.

—Yes, another reason why it’s good to study them: what kind of resources they have, if they have water or iron… to take that into account for future exploration work that humanity can create.

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