Asteroid Bennu Sample- OSIRIS REX
The sample capsule was used by the OSIRIS-REx mission to transport the material it had taken from the asteroid Bennu to Earth on September 24, 2023. The asteroid Bennu was targeted for sample collection by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) probe in September 2016. About eight crore kilometers separate Bennu from Earth. After arriving at Bennu in 2018, OSIRIS-REx spent around two years orbiting the asteroid. In 2020, it used its robotic arm to gather a 250-gram sample, which was kept secure inside the Sample Capsule. Following sample storage, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft returned to Earth and released the Sample Capsule when it was one lakh kilometers from the planet’s surface. The capsule touched down safely in the American desert state of Utah. Evidence of high carbon content and water was found in the sample during the initial analysis.
What was the purpose of this mission?
It is thought that asteroids rich in carbon, like Bennu, which have organic molecules and water on them, may have collided with Earth 4 billion years ago and contributed to the emergence of life on the planet. Thus, we can learn more about the beginnings of life on Earth by examining this sample. Bennu is 4.5 billion years old, therefore the sample could provide information on how our solar system first formed. Analyzing the Bennu sample can assist us in determining whether mining asteroids is feasible.
Situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, the asteroid belt is roughly 40 billion kilometers from Earth. When compared to the asteroid belt, Bennu is closer to Earth. At this moment, Bennu is roughly 10 crore kilometers away from Earth. Every six years, it passes near Earth. When compared to asteroids located in the asteroid belt, it thus provides an economical and expedient choice for exploration. Bennu may have originated in the belt of asteroid but it slowly moved out of it. In addition, Bennu is a carbon-rich asteroid that has water and organic molecules on it. Therefore, researching this can aid in our understanding of the origins of life.
After returning the Bennu sample to Earth, OSIRIS-REx’s mission did not come to an end. Renamed OSIRIS-APEX, it began its journey towards the asteroid Apophis for scientific research after releasing the sample capsule. At a distance of 30,000 kilometers, Apophis is predicted to approach Earth somewhat closely in 2029. We refer to these asteroids as Near Earth Asteroids (NEA). It is predicted that between 2178 and 2290, there is a 0.057% chance that an asteroid would collide with Earth. “Doomsday asteroids” are the term used to describe these asteroids that may pose an impact risk. In order to defend our planet and comprehend any hazards, it is imperative that we monitor and analyze asteroids of this type. Their orientation and spin rate variations are the focus of OSIRIS-APEX research. By researching this, we can learn how to deflect or eliminate Doomsday asteroids completely in order to safeguard Earth.
An asteroid sample that OSIRIS-REx had taken from Bennu was sent back to Earth. This sample’s preliminary analysis showed evidence of both water and a high carbon content. We can learn more about the origins of the solar system, the genesis of life on Earth, and the potential for asteroid mining by carefully examining this.