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August 2, 2021
PHOTO CREDITS: NASA/REUTERS
According to NASA, OSIRIS-REx was launched on September 8th of 2016, and finally made its historic landing on a potentially hazardous asteroid named Bennu last Thursday, which is over 200 million miles away from Earth.
The probe entered Bennu’s orbit in December of 2018. It has been scanning the surface of Bennu over these 2 years and with that information, Professor at York University Michael Daly has created the first-ever 3D map of an asteroid. On Thursday, OSIRIS-REx performed a short touch-and-go (TAG) maneuver to collect a 60-gram sample from the surface of Bennu and transport it safely back to Earth for research.
Scientists found out if OSIRIS-REx succeeded in collecting the desired amount of space-rock on Saturday, October 22nd. NASA reported on Tuesday that the probe’s sampling arm, named Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), was in contact with the asteroid for roughly fifteen seconds.
There is no guarantee that the mission went as planned. As the spacecraft orbited and surveyed Bennu, it became clear that this asteroid does not have sandy patches like it was once thought to have. Instead, it is covered in boulders and is what is known as a rubble pile asteroid. This makes sampling difficult because the TAGSAM is designed to touch down on a flat surface.
The spacecraft retrieves the sample by shooting nitrogen gas into the surface of the asteroid to loosen up the dirt and gravel below it. If TAGSAM did not make contact correctly or landed in too rocky of a spot and was not able to retrieve a sufficient sample size, scientists will find out Wednesday, and OSIRIS-REx will prepare for a second attempt at a backup site. It is equipped with three nitrogen gas tanks to give it three chances to retrieve the sample. If the mission is successful, it will join Japan’s Hayabusa, which successfully returned a small sample in 2010, and Japan’s Hayabusa2, which is currently in the process of returning a significant sample and will return in December of 2020.
ARTICLE: JOSEPH MODICA
SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH