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UA-run spacecraft returning to Earth with Bennu asteroid samples

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In just a few quick weeks, OSIRIS-REx is coming house.

The robotic spacecraft, constructed and run by a workforce on the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab in partnership with NASA and Lockheed Martin, has been out in area for seven years because it made a rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu and efficiently tucked an estimated 8 ounces of floor materials right into a capsule earlier than setting course for a return to Earth.

A part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, OSIRIS-REx—which stands for Origins • Spectral Interpretation • Useful resource Identification • Safety • Regolith Explorer— launched from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas V rocket in September 2016.

OSIRIS-REx was geared up with a collection of devices to carry out a number of missions, together with mapping and understanding the composition of Bennu and learning the “Yarkovsky impact,” which includes how daylight that asteroids take up might have an effect on their orbit by means of the discharge of thermal power.

However the large prize of the $800 million mission is that pattern that OSIRIS-REx gathered on Oct. 20, 2020, just a few months earlier than it left Bennu’s orbit, in keeping with UA Processor of Planetary Science Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator. Lauretta began engaged on the OSIRIS-REx pitch almost 20 years in the past, in 2004. The mission acquired the official inexperienced gentle from NASA in 2011.

OSIRIS-REx captured a picture of its robotic arm brushing towards the asteroid Bennu because it gathered a pattern.

“We’re going again to the daybreak of the photo voltaic system,” Lauretta stated throughout a latest information convention. “We’re in search of clues why Earth is a liveable world. What’s life, how did it originate, and why was Earth the place the place it occurred? Bennu is so wealthy in carbonaceous compounds. We imagine that we deliver materials which will actually be consultant of the seeds of life that these asteroids delivered in the beginning of our planet.”

On Sept. 24, OSIRIS-REx will eject the capsule that comprises the asteroid pattern, which is able to land within the Utah desert. The restoration workforce will take it to a clear room on the Michael Military Airfield on the Dugway Proving Floor for preliminary processing. Then it should journey to NASA’s Johnson Area Middle in Houston, the place will probably be ready for distribution to scientists throughout the globe.

In the meantime, OSIRIS-REx will undertake the brand new id of OSIRIS-APEX and head again into area with a brand new mission to review asteroid Apophis, with a scheduled rendezvous in 2029.

On the mercy of what falls from the sky

As a member of the LPL’s Planetary Supplies Analysis Group, Prof. Thomas Zega is among the many scientists who might be inspecting a number of the treasure from Bennu. He stated the possibility to review an asteroid pattern that hasn’t been uncovered to Earth’s environment provides intriguing prospects.

Scientists have lengthy studied meteorites, that are “leftovers from the time the solar and planets fashioned,” Zega stated. “And so meteorites actually are strong relics of a time that is lengthy since handed. They include snapshots of chemistry that occurred 4 and a half billion years in the past, when our native a part of the galaxy was forming the photo voltaic system.”

However scientists don’t know what asteroid these meteorites got here from or what they’ve been uncovered to as they entered the environment and landed on Earth.

“These of us who research meteorites, we have now actually been on the mercy of what falls from the sky,” Zega stated. “With a pattern return mission like OSIRIS-REx, there is no extra guessing as a result of we all know precisely the place these items of that asteroid got here from. We went to the asteroid, we orbited round it, we took we took high-resolution photographs of it, we acquired infrared spectra of it, we we all know what its chemical make-up is, we all know precisely the place we touched the asteroid and took a pattern of it from as a result of we map the heck out of it with with cameras and spectrometers.”

Zega, whose work includes peering at samples on the atomic stage by means of electron microscopes and related instruments, stated he’s been thinking about outer area for so long as he can bear in mind. He’d pester his mother and father — Dad was a chemist — with questions on stars and planets.

However he was additionally thinking about rocks and minerals, so when he discovered he might mix the 2 within the research of asteroids, he knew he’d discovered his calling.

“I inform individuals I used to be doomed at beginning,” he stated. “I’ve been working in labs since I used to be 17 years previous.”

The OSIRIS-REx samples gained’t be the primary ones that Zega has had in his lab. He beforehand had a chance to review samples returned by Japanese asteroid missions Hayabusa and Hayabusa2. He stated he acquired goosebumps when he dealt with these samples.

“I am like, ‘Yeah, I am really holding a bit of an asteroid. That is superb. I will be one of many few individuals on this planet who will get to take a look at this factor,’” he stated. “I am very, very fortunate.”

In just a few weeks, he’ll begin to unravel the mysteries that Bennu holds.

“On the twenty fourth of September, OSIRIS REx returns samples from carbonaceous asteroid Bennu,” Zega stated, “and the journey begins for us right here on the College of Arizona.”

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