NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently on its way to Earth to deliver the samples it collected from the surface of asteroid Bennu. Scientists revealed that the spacecraft will arrive on Earth on Sunday (September 24). This is indeed a historic mission as it remains the first time NASA is returning a material collected from an asteroid and bringing it home. What should you know about this asteroid? How can you watch the return mission for free? Continue reading to find out.
What you should know about Asteroid Bennu
Bennu is a rare B-type asteroid that is abundantly rich in carbon material. After the asteroid was discovered in 1999, scientists studied it closely and realized that it contained carbon material which contains chemical compounds that originated from the early years of the solar system. Bennu is about 1,720 feet (524 meters) wide.
Scientists suggest that its orbit makes the asteroid the most dangerous known space rock in the entire solar system. NASA reveals that Bennu conducts about one orbit around the Sun every 1.2 years. It also makes one full rotation around its axis every 4.3 hours. The most dangerous known asteroid in the solar system makes its close approach to Earth every six years.
However, its particular distance from Earth during each of these close flybys differs from each other. Researchers say that the asteroid has its orbital path tilted to about 5 degrees relative to Earth’s orbital path. Scientists have discovered that asteroids like Bennu came into existence around 4.5 billion years ago.
During that time, planets currently occupying the solar system came into existence from nebulae materials left over from the sun. These asteroids came into existence from materials left over from planet formation. Hence, the knowledge that we will learn from studying the asteroid sample will give scientists a hint of the composition of matter of the sun when it was newly formed.
How NASA OSIRIS-REx commenced its mission to study the asteroid
NASA launched the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida in September 2016. This launch marked the beginning of a two-year spaceflight to the 1,720-foot (524 meter) wide asteroid 101955 Bennu. The spacecraft arrived at the asteroid in August 2018 and spent the next two years studying the asteroid’s surface.
After it has successfully accomplished its observation, the spacecraft landed on the surface of the spacecraft to obtain the sample which it will deliver to Earth tomorrow. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx was nearly swallowed during the process. However, it fired its engine after obtaining the sample and returned to the orbit of the asteroid.
After obtaining the sample, the spacecraft commenced its return trip to Earth in 2021. It has been traveling for about a 1.2 billion-mile (1.9 billion-kilometer) trip to arrive on Earth on September 24. Once it arrives on Earth this weekend, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will jettison its sample return canister before flying off again to visit another asteroid. The canister will likely land on the surface of Earth in the western United States. The proposed landing site is the desert region around the U.S. military’s Utah Test and Training Range.
NASA revealed that the returned samples will be studied from late 2023 until 2025. The agency also noted that about 75% of the Bennu sample will be kept at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston for future studies.
“OSIRIS-REx’s many accomplishments demonstrated the daring and innovative way in which exploration unfolds in real-time,” Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters Thomas Zurbuchen said. “We have a primordial piece of our solar system headed back to Earth where many generations of researchers can unlock its secrets.”
How to Watch NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Return Asteroid Bennu Sample To Earth
If you have an interest in watching NASA return its first asteroid sample to Earth, you can join Italian astrophysicist and astronomer Gianluca Masi for a Livestream on his Virtual Telescope Project Website or YouTube channel. Masi revealed that the livestream will commence 12 hours before NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft releases its Sample Return Capsule housing the samples of asteroid Bennu.
Hence, the Livestream will commence at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) on Saturday (Sept. 23). However, you should note that weather conditions or other factors could affect the Livestream. But you will at least watch the American Space Agency return its first asteroid sample from space.
What is the next destination for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx?
After jettisoning the canister containing the Bennu’s sample, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will head toward near-Earth asteroid Apophis to study the 1200-foot (370 meter) wide space rock expected to make its closest approach to Earth by 2029. However, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will change its name to OSIRIS-APEX during its new mission.
NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be releasing its Sample Return Capsule on September 24 before heading towards the asteroid Apophis mission. The good news is that you can join a Livestream and watch how the return sample will safely arrive on Earth.