An American spacecraft successfully reached its target this week, the asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft OSIRIS-REx now operates around the asteroid, about 122 million kilometers from Earth.
His goal? To bring back a sample of the ancient space rock for the science.
It's a process that will take years.
"Relieved, proud and concerned to begin exploration!" That's what senior scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona wrote on Twitter this week. "To Bennu and back!"
It's the first time the United States has attempted to collect asteroid specimens for the return to Earth. Only Japan has done this successfully.
The first step in this process has begun. OSIRIS-REx now moves 1
Mapping Bennu will help scientists make a more accurate model of their shape, mass and speed, or spin. You want to know if there are any rocky or smooth surfaces. They also hope to find out which minerals are on the surface of the carbon-rich asteroid. This information will help scientists choose the place where they can take the best sample of dirt and rock and then bring it back to Earth.
The US space agency NASA sent OSIRIS-REx on its mission to Bennu. NASA hopes to learn more about how the planets of our solar system formed and how life began here on Earth. NASA says asteroids are left over from the parts that formed the planets in the solar system of the early about 4.5 billion years ago.
Scientists say that asteroids like Bennu possess natural resources like water, organics and metals. Future space travel may require the use of asteroids for these materials.
After the first mapping of Bennu, the spacecraft begins to circle the asteroid. The spaceship will enter orbit around Bennu on December 31st.
Bennu is only about 500 meters wide. It will be the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft.
OSIRIS-REx aims to collect at least 60 grams of Bennu dust and rock. The spacecraft does not land on the asteroid to collect the sample. Instead, it will use a three-meter-long arm to briefly set up and collect particles. This is planned for 2020.
The sample container will loosen in 2021 and return to earth. It is expected to land in the western state of Utah in 2023.
Bennu is not the only asteroid researcher to learn. A Japanese spaceship has been orbiting another near-Earth asteroid since June. This asteroid is called Ryugu. It's about twice the size of Bennu.
It's Japan's second asteroid mission, and it's also about collecting samples. It is expected that Ryugu's sample will be back on Earth in December 2020. However, it will be a much smaller sample than what scientists at OSIRIS-REx want to collect.
Both Bennu and Ryugu are considered potentially harmful asteroids. They could hit Earth in a few years. Bennu can get closer in about 150 years. If hit, it would produce a crater.
Scientist Dante Lauretta confirmed that NASA's work with Bennu will neither change its orbit nor make it more dangerous.
The REx mission started in 2016. It started in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Since this week, she has covered a total of two billion kilometers.
I'm Anne Ball.
Anne Ball wrote this story for learning English with information from the Associated Press and NASA. George Grow was the publisher.
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Words in this story
Asteroid – n. One of thousands of small planets orbiting the Sun
19659028] – adj. Fear or nervousness before what can happen
grave – v. take and hold quickly
solar system – n. the sun along with a group of bodies orbiting
organic – adj by, in relation to or relating to living things
Crater – n. a hole in the earth caused by the explosion of a bomb or by an object falling from the sky