The Origin of Bennu, the Asteroid NASA Hopes to Meet [VIDEO]
NASA has recently released a new and educational short films on the asteroid Bennu, a near-Earth space rock that the agency hopes to be collecting samples from by 2018. This mission is a precursor to a larger mission, where NASA will attempt to physically capture an asteroid and bring it into the moon's orbit for further study.
So why is NASA interested in investigating some hunk of space-rock anyways? Much like with the European Space Agency's (ESA) historic chase-down and landing on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, analysis of an asteroid could give experts a window into the past - back to the very beginnings of our solar system.
"We are going to Bennu because we want to know what it has witnessed over the course of its evolution," Edward Beshore, at the University of Arizona, explained in a statement.
Beshore is the Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA's asteroid-sample-return mission known as the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security - Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx for short.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be launched by 2016, when Bennu should be very close to Earth, and will likely reach the asteroid by 2018. There, it will land and briefly stick around taking data and samples. These samples are expected to return to Earth by 2023. (Scroll to read on...)
[Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab]
As described in the video, asteroids like Bennu are much like time capsules made of the flash-heated dust that was around when our Sun first formed. This dust formed planets as well, but it is suspected that Bennu, calmly drifting out at the furthest edges of our solar system, remained largely unchanged over the last four billion years.
Now that this drifting rock is finally closer to Earth, NASA researchers believe now is the time to strike.
"Bennu's experiences will tell us more about where our solar system came from and how it evolved," Beshore added. "Like the detectives in a crime show episode, we'll examine bits of evidence from Bennu to understand more completely the story of the solar system, which is ultimately the story of our origin."
The OSIRIS-REx mission is also part of a larger NASA goal called the Asteroid Redirect Mission, where data from the sample mission will help researcher know what to look for when they send astronauts onto a robot-captured asteroid sometime after 2019.