10 Reasons Why Bennu
Embarking on a celestial odyssey that spanned two years and traversed the boundless expanse of space, the OSIRIS-REx probe now finds itself on the cusp of a momentous chapter in its astronomical saga. Its destination is the enigmatic asteroid Bennu, a celestial marvel that beckons as a unique canvas for exploration and scrutiny. With unwavering determination and having voyaged through the cosmic tapestry between planets and stars, OSIRIS-REX is poised to commence an extraordinary mission upon its arrival at Bennu this December.
The unfolding OSIRIS-REx mission is slated to unfold over approximately two years, a span in which the probe will meticulously chart the topography of Bennu's surface, unraveling the environmental and geological mysteries of this singular asteroid. However, the zenith of anticipation arrives as the probe delicately touches down on Bennu's surface, aiming to gather a precious sample exceeding 60 grams—potentially reaching an unprecedented 2,000 grams. This milestone marks the largest space sample collection from a celestial body since the iconic era of moon landings.
In the year 2023, the inhabitants of Earth will stand on the precipice of expectation, eagerly awaiting the return of OSIRIS-REx and its cosmic payload. This audacious journey promises not just to deepen our understanding of the solar system's formation but to unravel the very origins of life itself. As the capsule descends into the Utah desert, it carries with it the promise of unveiling the secrets embedded in our astronomical and cosmic history, rendering this mission a beacon of ambition and excitement in the current era of space exploration.
1. It's close to Earth
"Space technology is advancing rapidly with time, and in this context, the journey of exploration into the world of asteroids, especially the asteroid Bennu, which attracts attention due to its close proximity to Earth, stands out. Bennu surpasses most asteroids in its belt, regularly crossing Earth's orbit and providing an exceptional opportunity for scientists to understand its formation. The OSIRIS-REx mission benefited from Bennu's proximity for a successful launch, and despite challenges, it cleverly used Earth's gravity to adjust its trajectory. This journey represents a significant step in expanding our understanding of the solar system and shedding light on the risks of nearby asteroids. These adventures not only offer new scientific insights but also open the door to exciting future explorations in the world of space."
2. **Asteroids: Optimal Size for Space Exploration Missions**
Asteroids represent significant targets for space exploration, including the asteroid Bennu, distinguished by its suitable size for such space missions. In contrast to smaller asteroids that rotate at extremely high speeds, Bennu's size allows for easy access and the collection of samples from its surface.
Asteroids rotate on their axes, and smaller asteroids with a diameter less than 200 meters often spin at very high speeds, making it challenging for spacecraft to match their velocity for successful landing and sample collection. While the rapid rotation causes rocks and regolith, known as "asteroid soil," to be thrown away from the surface of small asteroids, Bennu, with a diameter of 492 meters, remains close and rich in asteroid soil. Its appropriate size and slow rotation speed—once every 4.3 hours—reflect unique opportunities to understand the origin of the solar system and the challenges of space exploration.
3. **Bennu: An Ancient Message from Solar System Formation**
The asteroid Bennu represents remnants of the turbulent formation of the solar system. Within its core lie some metallic fragments that may be older than the solar system itself. These microscopic grains of dust might be from the same dust that emanated from deceased stars, later gathering to form the sun and its planets about 4.6 billion years ago.
Despite the presence of asteroid remnants, meteorites, also known as "rocky meteorites," are considered a better option for study. Scientists can't, with few exceptions, identify the type of bodies that produced these meteorites, making the surrounding context unclear. Additionally, these space rocks that land on Earth's surface are subject to pollution and chemical changes due to environmental factors, obscuring their ancient records and complicating their historical data.
4. **Bennu: Perfectly Preserved Time Capsule**
The asteroid Bennu serves as a unique treasure from the early times of the solar system, preserved in the vacuum of space. Scientists believe it separated from a larger asteroid in the asteroid belt due to a destructive collision approximately 1-2 billion years ago. It journeyed through space until it was locked into an orbit close to Earth. Despite these catastrophic events, scientists do not expect them to have significantly altered its structure.
Bennu presents a unique opportunity to explore the formation of the solar system in its early stages. Researchers can scrutinize it with precision, avoiding the environmental effects that might contaminate space samples landing on Earth. Preserving this asteroid as a space treasure opens the door to exciting explorations and new discoveries about the evolution of our solar system.
5. **Bennu: Key to the Origin of Life**
Examining a sample from the asteroid Bennu will help planetary scientists understand the role of asteroids in delivering the building blocks of life to Earth. Through studies of Bennu using Earth-based and space telescopes, we know that it is a carbonaceous asteroid, rich in carbon. Carbon is a key component of organic molecules. Bennu is likely rich in organic molecules, which consist of chains of carbon linked to atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, and other elements in a chemical recipe that forms the basis of all known living organisms. In addition to carbon, Bennu may contain another essential component for life: water, trapped in the minerals that make up the asteroid.
Thus, Bennu represents a valuable tool for investigating the origin of life and the extent to which asteroids have contributed to bringing vital components to our planet.
6. **Bennu: The Future of Space Exploration and Resource Utilization**
Close exploration of Bennu not only benefits our understanding of cosmic history but also represents a crucial step towards planning for the future. Asteroids carry vast resources such as iron, aluminum, and precious metals like platinum. Consequently, there are increasing efforts by some companies and even countries to develop technology that will enable us to extract these materials in the future.
More importantly, asteroids like Bennu play a significant role in the future of deep-space exploration. If humans succeed in extracting abundant hydrogen and oxygen from the water trapped in asteroid minerals, they could produce rocket fuel. Thus, asteroids could potentially become fueling stations for robotic or human missions to Mars and beyond. Understanding how to navigate around an object like Bennu and examining its chemical and physical properties will help prepare for this sustainable exploration.
7. **Understanding the Depths of Small Planets: Bennu's Vital Role**
Astronomers have continued studying the asteroid Bennu since its discovery in 1999. As a result, they believe they have a wealth of knowledge about the physical and chemical properties of the asteroid. This knowledge relies not only on observing the asteroid from Earth but also on studying the meteorites found on the Earth's surface and filling gaps in visual knowledge with expectations derived from theoretical models.
With precise information from OSIRIS-REx, scientists will have the opportunity to verify whether their expectations about Bennu are accurate. This work will help validate telescopic observations and models attempting to uncover the nature of other small planets in our solar system. The in-depth exploration of Bennu not only benefits our understanding of it but also serves as a key to revealing the secrets of other planets in our astronomical world.
8. **Understanding the Mystery of the Yarkovsky Effect: OSIRIS-REx's Journey to Bennu**
Astronomers seek to comprehend the peculiar phenomenon known as the "Yarkovsky Effect" through the exploration of the asteroid Bennu. According to their calculations, Bennu's orbit moves toward the sun by approximately 280 meters (0.18 miles) annually since its discovery. Scientists believe this phenomenon is attributed to the Yarkovsky Effect, where sunlight heats a small dark side of the asteroid, and it subsequently emits heat as it rotates.
This thermal energy affects the asteroid's movement, either pushing it away from the sun if it has a rotation similar to Earth, i.e., rotating in the same direction as its orbit, or toward the sun in the case of Bennu, which rotates in the opposite direction of its orbit. The OSIRIS-REx mission will measure the Yarkovsky Effect up close to assist scientists in predicting the movement of Bennu and other asteroids. Indeed, measurements have demonstrated how this effect may have pushed Bennu toward the edge of our solar system from the asteroid belt over time.
9. **Earth Protection: The Role of OSIRIS-REx in Avoiding Asteroids**
Scientists seek to predict the trajectories of asteroids to know when they might come close to Earth, ensuring our safety. Using the Yarkovsky Effect, it has been estimated that Bennu may approach Earth closely in 2135 and possibly even closer between 2175 and 2195. Although it's unlikely that Bennu will collide with Earth during that period, future generations can use OSIRIS-REx data to determine how to deflect any asteroid that poses a threat, perhaps even utilizing the Yarkovsky Effect to their advantage.
10.**An Endless Gift: Bennu's Samples Return with Perpetual Benefits**
On September 24, 2023, samples from Bennu will return to Earth. Scientists from the OSIRIS-REx mission will study a quarter of the asteroid's soil, providing the rest to scientists worldwide, and preserving some for future generations not yet born. Scientists will be able to explore these samples using upcoming technologies, delving into questions yet to be posed.
This unique scientific gift will not only offer new insights into the formation of the solar system and the origin of life but will also serve as a valuable resource for future space research. Thanks to these samples, Bennu will remain a gift that continues to enrich our understanding of the cosmos and addresses questions we haven't even considered yet.
In conclusion to this remarkable journey into the world of the asteroid Bennu, it becomes abundantly clear that there are over a dozen reasons to be fascinated by asteroids, especially Bennu. The diverse benefits that Bennu's samples will bring to Earth range from understanding the origin of life and space resources to protecting the Earth from potential asteroid impacts.
The return of these samples to Earth in September 2023 will be a gift to humanity, and its significance extends beyond immediate gains, offering future generations an opportunity to explore them using methods and technologies that may not have been discovered yet.
Considering all these reasons, Bennu appears to us as a priceless celestial body, harboring secrets that technology is accelerating to unveil. The exploration journey to Bennu represents a significant step in expanding the boundaries of our understanding of the universe and fueling our boundless desire for discovery and progress.