Science

NASA’s first mapping of asteroid in search of evidence

EPA / NASA / HANDOUT

NASA will use the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft to map asteroid Bennu to collect surface samples so that scientists on Earth can study them. Samples containing mineralogical and molecular components need to be examined to provide a better understanding of the beginning of the solar system or even the origin of life. OSIRIS-Rex will start its journey on September 8 and should return samples to Earth in 2023.

NASA’s instrument for detecting organic and other materials will be OSIRIS-Rex Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS). OVIRS’s main function is to determine how the asteroid absorbs and reflects light in order to find a perfect sample, which will be collected by a robotic arm. OVIRS operates at 10 watts, it’s rather stable, thus lowering the risk of damage and can work at its best when the temperatures are really low.

“OVIRS is key to our search for organics on Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-Rex.

In addition to OVIRS, which is responsible for visible and infrared spectrum, NASA’s team included another instrument, the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), which will be responsible for the thermal.

By tracking all the wavelengths with the help of these instruments, NASA will be able to identify all materials since they have their own ‘’fingerprints’’.

When OSIRIS-Rex approaches Bennu, OVIRS will be looking at one hemisphere at a time to gain information about spectrum changes during asteroid rotations. Once settled, OVIRS will collect more information and get a precise map.

Scientists will be able to study the Yarkovsky Effect, the effects of Bennu’s surface cooling and heating influencing its orbit. This understanding will help to determine the path and the effect of this asteroid on others.

When NASA chooses the right spot, OSIRIS-REx will shoot nitrogen gas at the asteroid to retrieve the sample, which shouldn’t take more than five seconds. The sample will be kept in a special Sample Return Capsule (SRC).

Scientists are also interested in finding water. That part of the mission could be compromised if OSIRIS-REx gathers moisture while waiting for launch in Florida. To avoid any complications, heating instruments for removing any water particulates will be on when the spacecraft launches. The heat will not damage OVIRS, NASA confirms.

The mission is of great importance since asteroids don’t change much and that can be a great piece of evidence. The samples will be brought to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for further testing.

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