After a journey of 2.3 billion kilometers, an American capsule will land back to Earth on Sunday. It concerns a package from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft with which NASA collected material from the asteroid Bennu.
It’s a thrilling end to a seven-year mission. The container containing the valuable asteroid debris is scheduled to land on Earth at around 4:55 p.m. Dutch time. The intention is for the space beam to land gently in the desert of the American state of Utah.
The packet sender is OSIRIS-REx. That spacecraft will remain in space on Sunday and will launch the debris container about 100,000 kilometers from Earth. If all goes according to plan, the vehicle will fly into the atmosphere after four hours at a speed of approximately 45,000 kilometers per hour.
According to researchers, the contents of the package are of enormous value. This relates to 250 grams of rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was able to land on the asteroid in 2020 and absorb the debris.
The pebbles are likely more than 4.5 billion years old
Researchers can’t wait to study the asteroid debris. The mission’s lead researcher told the BBC: “They are materials that existed before our planet, and perhaps even grains that existed before our solar system.” BBC. This means that the pebbles are more than 4.5 billion years old.
According to Professor Dante Lauretta, matter should help answer questions regarding our existence. “How did the Earth form and why did it become a habitable world?” Loretta sums up. But the most important question: What is the source of the organic molecules that make up all life on Earth?
NASA is closely monitoring Bennu for another reason. Of all the asteroids in space, the potato-shaped space rock has the best chance of ever hitting our Earth. Although this chance is very small. If this happens, it is expected that this possible collision will occur at the end of the next century.
For OSIRIS-REx, the work is far from over after seven years. After sending out the asteroid’s debris beam, the spacecraft sets a course for Apophis, another asteroid. It will arrive near Earth in April 2029. There, too, the spacecraft must drill through the surface and reveal the composition.
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