A NASA spacecraft has arrived at an asteroid, which could give scientists vital information regarding how life on Earth began.
The spacecraft, Osiris-Rex, will now investigate the asteroid, known as Bennu, in an attempt to discover where the materials that created humans came from.
Today’s arrival is the result of a two year journey which saw the spacecraft travelling over 80 million miles.
As reported by The Independent, NASA engineers celebrated by cheering and high-fiving as Osiris-Rex landed on Bennu. The spacecraft then sent back the message that it had arrived successfully.
Marking the end of a two year and two month journey, the landing cost NASA $800 million after the spacecraft was initially launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2016.
As reported by Wired, Bennu is less than 500m in diameter but despite its small size, it has huge potential for scientific discoveries.
Astronomers believe the asteroid’s rocky composition has remained more or less unchanged since it first formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago.
Hence their decision to land a spacecraft on Bennu; it is hoped that collecting and analysing even just a sample of the astroid could tell scientists a lot about the origins of our solar system, its planets, and the source of organic molecules that may have given rise to life on Earth.
Osiris-Rex, short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, has many tasks in store now it has arrived at the asteroid.
First, it must begin its months-long process of surveying Bennu’s surface. To do this, the spacecraft will spend several weeks manoeuvring around the asteroid in order to collect data on its mass, topography, and composition.
If all goes to plan, Osiris-Rex hopes to enter the asteroid’s orbit on New Year’s Eve. If NASA is successful, Bennu will become the smallest object the agency has ever orbited.
Pretty big deal, huh? And it seems NASA have been busy this year, as just last week (November 26) they successfully landed on Mars.
The InSight lander survived the perilous journey, sending the official ‘beep’ to NASA to signal that all was well. The lander also sent a photo of the surface of Mars as they landed.
As reported by the Independent, a Mars landing is one of the most dangerous operations in spaceflight; there have been 17 attempts by humans to land on the planet’s surface, with 10 of those failing.
The InSight lander endured ‘seven minutes of terror’ as it crashed its way through the Martian atmosphere until it eventually touched down on the surface.
Because of previous failings, engineers were nervous going into this landing due to Mars’ difficult atmosphere.
However, the landing was ‘entirely perfect,’ with the lander and the satellites which sent communications to Earth, working as hoped.
— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 26, 2018
CNN reported that the lander had to travel more than 300 million miles at a top speed of 6,200 mph while being followed by two cube satellites, called MarCO. These are the first cube satellites to fly into deep space.
Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said:
We’ve studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry. Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbour as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system.
As with almost every announcement from NASA, eager enthusiasts wait patiently for the revelation they’ve found an alien life form.
For now though, I guess we’ll just have to make do with the knowledge that InSight landed on the red planet and Osiris-Rex touched down on Bennu successfully.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).