Asteroids

The OSIRIS-REx space probe being prepared (Photo NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

NASA has confirmed that its OSIRIS-REx space probe has left the asteroid Bennu after more than two years of study. In fact, OSIRIS-REx reached Bennu on December 3, 2018. In addition to the data collected with its instruments, OSIRIS-REx will bring back to Earth a capsule containing the Bennu samples collected on October 20, 2020. The return journey will be long because the arrival is scheduled for September 24, 2023.

'Oumuamua's artist's representation (Image courtesy William Hartmann)

Two articles published in the “Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets” report as many parts of a research on the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua proposing the theory that it’s composed mainly of solid nitrogen and is a fragment of an exoplanet similar to Pluto. Professor Steven Desch and Dr. Alan Jackson of Arizona State University tried to evaluate the characteristics of different types of ice to see which one best matched the characteristics observed in ‘Oumuamua. Their conclusion is that nitrogen ice would explain this interstellar asteroid’s behavior. According to their reconstruction, between 400 and 500 million years ago, a collision detached a fragment from a planet similar to Pluto and launched it into interstellar space.

The samples from asteroid Ryugu after getting recovered (Photo courtesy JAXA. All rights reserved)

Yesterday, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2 released the capsule containing the samples taken from asteroid Ryugu to Earth. The capsule landed in Australia’s Woomera region. A few hours later, the space agency JAXA crew confirmed that they recovered the capsule and started preparations for its transport to the laboratory in Japan where it will be opened to start examining its contents.

The TAGSAM mechanism's head

NASA has announced that the first visual inspection of the OSIRIS-REx space probe’s TAGSAM system, which captured soil samples from asteroid Bennu in the night between 21 and 22 October, has done its job well. In fact, the problem appears to be that the mechanism captured far too many materials and, after OSIRIS-REx moved away from Bennu, they started escaping. For this reason, the mission team decided to skip the various operations that would have allowed more significant examinations of the samples to try to seal them in the Sample Return Capsule to bring them back to Earth.

Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx descending to Bennu's surface (Image NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

A few hours ago NASA’s OSIRIS-REx space probe descended to the surface of the asteroid Bennu to take soil samples in what was called TAG (Touch-And-Go). The selected area is in a crater that was named Nightingale with a diameter of about 16 meters in Bennu’s northern hemisphere. The operation was carried out fully automatically because there’s an 18.5 minute delay in communications due to the fact that OSIRIS-REx is about 334 million kilometers from Earth. If the result is satisfactory, this part of the mission will be over.