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NASA is collecting space dirt from an asteroid that could kill us all



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A composite image of Bennu from OSIRIS-REx at a distance of 330 km (205 miles).


NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

If Earth is wiped out by an asteroid in the next few hundred years, Bennu might be the one to do it.

Officially known as 101955 Bennu, the asteroid is about the size of the Empire State Building and has a "not inconsiderable probability of affecting the earth" according to NASA . In fact, Bennu ranks second on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale, which is virtually the Earth's ranking: "What will obliterate us all?"

So, if we had the chance to visit them, would we certainly send a team of miners to blow it up instead of traveling seven years to collect some space debris from the top?

But remember, that's NASA we're talking about.


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This week from Watch This Space, we take a look at OSIRIS-REx – NASA's mission to contact Bennu (every five seconds) to collect dust from the surface and bring it back to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx's Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) contacts the asteroid and blowing gas on its surface to take a dust sample.


NASA

It may sound like a bit of dust after a long walk, but this material (known as "regolith") could tell us a lot. According to NASA, asteroids are essentially "the remnant left over from the solar system's evolutionary process," so that their composition can shed light on the history of our solar system, how it originated, and how planets like the Earth originated.

OSIRIS-REx (which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security Regolith Explorer spacecraft) arrived in Bennu on December 3 and will spend a little less than a year examining the asteroid find suitable place to sit down. When he has found the perfect spot, the spacecraft will contact the surface of the asteroid for about five seconds, with a blast of nitrogen gas leading to dust and pebbles on the surface that settle in the spacecraft and return to Earth.

At the end of their seven-year mission, NASA scientists will be able to study this material, learn more about our origins, and possibly even "molecular precursors to the origin of life and the oceans of the earth," according to NASA Find .

If you want to learn more about the other amazingly cool things that NASA and other space agencies are up to, you can watch the full Watch This Space series on YouTube.

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