NASA Asteroid Bennu: NASA skim space rock for close-up of ‘POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS’ asteroid

NASA Asteroid Bennu: NASA skim space rock for close-up of ‘POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS’ asteroid

US space agency NASA in January released stunning pictures of Asteroid Bennu taken with its OSIRIS-REx craft, taken from a distance of roughly one mile (1.6km) above its surface. Now NASA has gone one better after releasing a photo taken late last week from an orbit of just 0.4 miles (690 metres) over Asteroid Bennu. And this makes the daring fly-by the closest a spacecraft has ever orbited a small extraterrestrial object.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission aims to answer the most fundamental question about the human condition: Where did life originate?

Asteroids, debris from the solar system’s birth, can teach us about the history of the Sun and Earth.

And asteroid Bennu is an ancient carbonaceous space rock whose regolith is hoped will record the earliest history of our solar system.

NASA wrote in a statement: “Primitive asteroids have not significantly changed since they formed nearly 4.5 billion years ago.

“Because of this, we hope to find organic molecules on Bennu like those that may have led to the origin of life on Earth.”

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Benny actually boasts a duel interest to scientists, in addition to potentially containing the molecular precursors to the origin of life.

Bennu has also been calculated to be one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids.

This is because Bennu has a relatively high probability (1-in-2,700) of impacting the Earth late in the next century.

OSIRIS-REx will determine Bennu’s physical and chemical properties, providing critical data in the event of an impact mitigation mission.

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NASA wrote about the latest photo release: “From the spacecraft’s vantage point in orbit, half of Bennu is sunlit and half is in shadow.

“Bennu’s largest boulder can also be seen protruding from the southern hemisphere.

The image was taken from a distance of 0.4 miles (690m) above the asteroid’s surface by NavCam 1, one of three navigation cameras that comprise the spacecraft’s TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System) suite.

“At this distance, details as small as 1.6 ft (0.5m) across can be resolved in the centre of the image.”

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OSIRIS-REx carries five data-taking instruments and is intended to carry out NASA’s first mission to return with samples from an asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx had already set history: Bennu is around just 1,700ft (520m) in diameter, making it the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft.

Earlier this year, NASA scientists determined that Bennu’s surface is spewing material as well as craggier than previously thought, which will make a sample collection attempt more difficult.

Japan’s similar Hayabusa2 mission successfully collected samples from the asteroid Ryugu using a tantalum bullet in February 2019, and later blasted a hole in it using an explosive device for another sample run.

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