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NASA's Osiris-REx Returns with Asteroid Samples to Avert Future Earth Collisions

A NASA spacecraft unleashed its sample findings that could help prevent a collision on Earth. After a seven-year expedition of observing the asteroid Bennu, a sample container landed in a Utah desert this past September. The sample is predicted to contain 250 grams of high-carbon dust and rocks from the asteroid.

In 2016, Osiris-REx, NASA’s third deep-space robotic mission, departed into space, costing over $1 billion. After two years of searching, the spacecraft landed on Bennu to gather material that has been dated back to 4.5 million years ago. Researchers will use this new data to improve the understanding of planet and life formation. To acquire the material, Osiris-REx inserted a stick vacuum connected to a container into the asteroid. However, much more dust and rocks were gathered than expected. This damaged the spacecraft’s container and lost a significant quantity of material. More than 100 grams were collected from extra material that was stuck on the outside of the container, bypassing the original goal of 60 grams.

From more than 500,000 asteroids that orbit our solar system, Bennu was chosen for the mission because of its elements. Its length is equal to one-third of a mile and it weighs nearly 172 billion pounds. The asteroid is 50 million miles away from Earth, but scientists found a concerning possibility that Bennu could hit Earth by 2182. They hope to use the sample data to prevent pocket collisions on our planet. One way is to change the trajectory using kinetic impactors. Dante Lauretta, the mission’s leader from the University of Arizona, said, “With each revelation from Bennu, we draw closer to unraveling the mysteries of our cosmic heritage.”

Although Japan is the only other country to obtain asteroid samples, they didn’t get nearly the amount obtained by the U.S. It is the largest collection in space, aside from the samples of the Moon. The samples will be stored at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, next to the moon rocks collected from the Apollo missions decades ago. In the following years, scientists worldwide and upcoming generations of researchers will have the opportunity to utilize 70% of the sample, which is protected by NASA.

After releasing its samples, the Osiris-REx spacecraft did not land on Earth but instead set off to explore another asteroid named Apophis, in search of more matter. Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA, announced, “The sample has made it back to Earth, but there is still so much science to come – science as we’ve never seen before.”

[Source: Madison.com, NASA]

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