Space | A sample capsule from the most dangerous asteroid in our solar system landing on Earth today

The sample capsule of the Osiris-Rex probe launched in 2016 is scheduled to land on Sunday. It is hoped that the sample collected from the Bennu asteroid will open the door to the birth of our solar system and life as we know it.

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Nasan The Osiris-Rex probe’s seven-year, seven-billion-kilometer round-trip sample collection journey is coming to an end. The sample capsule is expected to land in the Utah desert in the United States on Sunday morning local time. HS is showing Reuters’ live broadcast of the landing at around 16:45 Finnish time.

About four hours before landing, approximately 108,000 kilometers from Earth’s surface, Osiris-Rex will release the capsule. It contains a sample from the asteroid Bennu.

After releasing the capsule, the Osiris-Rex probe continues its journey towards the Apophis asteroid.

According to the news agency AFP, Nasa has said that the final phase of the capsule’s descent will last 13 minutes. The sample capsule enters the atmosphere at a speed of more than 43,000 kilometers per hour and reaches a temperature of about 2,800 degrees at its hottest. If everything goes well, the landing will be smooth thanks to the parachute.

NASA live broadcast from the return of the sample capsule to the country starts at around 17:00 Finnish time.

At issue is the first sample retrieved from an asteroid in US history. Researchers have high expectations. The samples are from a time when the solar system was just forming, because the conditions on the asteroid Bennu have remained the same for at least 4.5 billion years.

The asteroid sample can therefore help researchers find out how the ingredients of life arrived on Earth in time. In this way, humanity would gain a better understanding of the birth of our solar system and our home planet.

“We are trying to find out our source. How did the Earth form and why is it a habitable Earth?” says the lead scientist of the Osiris-Rex mission Dante Lauretta According to the British Broadcasting Corporation BBC.

“Where did the oceans get their water, where did the air in our atmosphere come from – and most importantly: what is the source of all the organic molecules that make up life on Earth?”

NASA is scheduled to reveal the first research results at a press conference on October 11.

Sample can also provide researchers with more information about the Bennu asteroid, which NASA classifies as the most dangerous boulder in our solar system. The small asteroid with a diameter of about 500 meters orbits the Sun in 1.2 years and comes close to the Earth every six years.

Because of its path, Bennu’s probability of hitting Earth is greater than that of any other known asteroid. Still, the probability is very low.

However, Bennu was not selected as NASA’s target primarily because of the collision risk, but because it is considered a time capsule that tells about the past of our solar system. The darkness of the Bennu asteroid suggests that there is a lot of carbon and possibly organic compounds on its surface. It is organic carbon that is the prerequisite for life as we know it.

Bennu probably contains a lot of water bound to its minerals. Scientists are trying to find out if the ratio of different types of hydrogen atoms on Bennu is the same as in our oceans.

OSIRIS-REX was launched in 2016, and it entered orbit around the asteroid in December 2018. In 2020, the probe landed on the asteroid’s surface and collected rock material in its tank with a robotic arm.

The goal was to grab at least 60 grams of rock and dust from the surface of the asteroid.

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The landing was successful as planned, but the images sent by the probe to Earth later revealed that Osiris-Rex threw a crumbling asteroid rock into space. Because of the leak, Nasa had to skip the measurement of the sample and go directly to the stage where the rock material was safely stored inside the probe.

So NASA is not entirely sure how much rock material was finally collected. Researchers believe that more than planned, up to about 250 grams. Nasa plans to store at least three-quarters of the sample at the Space Flight Center in Houston for further global research. Some will be saved for future generations.

His return trip Land the Osiris-Rex probe started in 2021. During its return, it has already circled the Earth twice.

Bringing the sample safely to the ground is a difficult operation. NASA has the option to cancel the planned landing by Saturday evening at the latest, if conditions on Sunday look bad.

If this were to happen, Osiris-Rex would orbit the Sun and try again to return to Earth in 2025.

Correction on Friday 22.9. 12:23 p.m.: In the article, it was wrongly written earlier that the capsule reaches a temperature of about 28,000 degrees at its hottest. The right temperature is about 2,800 degrees.

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