The US probe Osiris-Rex briefly contacted the asteroid Bennu on Tuesday and collected samples to return to Earth in 2023.
It is the first time that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, in English) makes one of its probes touch down on an asteroid.
Bennu It is located more than 320 million kilometers from Earth and the probe reached the asteroid after a journey of more than four years, as it was launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral.
The Osiris-Rex arrived in Bennu on December 3, 2018 and began to orbit the asteroid on the 31st of that same month.
Upon landing, the Osiris-Rex threw compressed nitrogen onto Bennu’s surface to kick up dust and gravel that the probe should have collected.
NASA will not know until the next few days if the collection has been successful and the sample is enough (60 grams) to return the probe to Earth or, if not, make a second attempt next January.
“This has been an incredible feat,” he said. in a statement from NASA its associate administrator of the Directorate of Scientific Missions, Thomas Zurbuchen.
“A piece,” he added, “of primordial rock that has witnessed the entire history of our solar system may now be ready to return home for generations of scientific discoveries, and we are eager to see what comes next.”
NASA highlighted in its statement that asteroid Bennu “offers scientists a window into the early solar systemAs it first began to take shape billions of years ago, it spews out ingredients that could have helped sow life on Earth. ”
If the mission has been successful, in March 2021 – the next time Bennu aligns himself with Earth properly – the Osiris-Rex will make its return.
His parachute landing is scheduled for September 24, 2024 in the Utah desert.