At 6:08 p.m. US Eastern Time on Tuesday, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft finished a four-and-a-half-hour descent to the surface of asteroid Bennu, 200 million miles from Earth. Once there, it briefly made contact with the ground in an attempt to collect some rocky pebbles and dust before safely flying away. We won't know if the sample collection was successful until later. Why do we want a sample? Asteroids like Bennu are some of the oldest objects in the solar system--they are time capsules chock full of the same materials (such as organics and hydrated minerals) that eventually formed into planets like Earth.
NASA has captured its closest and most detailed image yet of Bennu, a 78 billion-kilogram asteroid which approaches close to Earth every six years. The image was taken on 13 June while the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was performing its second orbit around Bennu, at 0.4 miles (0.6 kilometres) from the asteroid's surface. The OSIRIS-REx team observing Bennu say this is the closest orbit a spacecraft has ever made around a small planetary body in our solar system. It breaks the record the spacecraft set during its first orbit in December 2018, when it came as close as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometres) from the asteroid. The image shows half of the rock brightened by sunlight and the other half in shadow.
NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has made a historic touchdown on the asteroid Bennu and collected samples from its surface for several seconds before backing away Tuesday evening. As of 5pm Tuesday EST the spacecraft was activating its sensors and instruments as it further descended into the orbit of the asteroid that contains material from the early solar system and could provide insight into the origin of life on Earth. As of 5.38pm EST the spacecraft steered to the proper orientation for final descent, with its 11-foot arm and cameras pointed towards the asteroid's surface, and by 5.47pm the craft's cameras were turned on. As of 5.53pm checkpoint burn was complete, meaning the spacecraft will descend more steeply towards Bennu's surface in time for matchpoint burn. By 6.02pm matchpoint burn was complete, the spacecraft's key final maneuver performed by firing its thrusters to match Bennu's spin and center exactly over the landing spot to safely touch down. By 6.10pm OSIRIS-Rex passed the 25 meter crossing meaning contact with the surface is just minutes away.
Fox News Flash top headlines are here. Check out what's clicking on Foxnews.com. With NASA getting ready to land a spacecraft on the asteroid Bennu in just a few short days, the mysterious space rock is already revealing some of its secrets, including the presence of carbon-bearing materials. Several studies were published on the matter in the journals Science and Science Advances, noting that carbon-bearing, organic material is "widespread" on the surface of the asteroid. This includes the area where NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will take its first sample from, known as Nightingale, on Oct. 20.
At around 1700 GMT today, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will hurtle around Earth at 8.5 kilometres per second, giving it the boost it needs to reach the asteroid Bennu next August. Since its 2016 launch, the spacecraft has been circling the sun in Earth's orbit, just ahead of the planet. Bennu also revolves around the sun, but its orbit is slightly tilted compared to Earth's, so it only crosses our path at two points during the year. OSIRIS-REx will therefore have to make an adjustment in its path to intersect with that of the asteroid. To do that, the spacecraft will slingshot around Earth, passing over Australia before making its closest approach to the planet, at about 17,000 kilometres above Antarctica.