NASA spacecraft on Tuesday hit the rough surface of the Bennu asteroid and captured a pattern of rocks dating back to the birth of the solar system to bring home.
This is a first for the United States – only Japan has previously preserved asteroid specimens.
The “touch-and-go” maneuver was carried out by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado at 6.12pm (22:12 GMT) on Tuesday, with one announcer saying: “Touchdown announced. The model is in progress, ”and the scientists exploded at the ceremony.
Seconds later, after being introduced by Lockheed mission operator Estelle Church, the spacecraft confirmed that it was away from the rock, “sample collection completed and back-away burn implemented”
The historic mission rested for 12 years and a critical 16-second period of construction, where the minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft extended its 11-foot (3.35 m) robotic arm toward a flat patch of gravel near the north pole of Bennu and locked a rock pattern The first few asteroid rocks.
The probe returns images of the sample collection on Wednesday and throughout the week so that scientists can examine how much material has been recovered and determine if the probe needs to make another collection attempt.
Scientists want to be at least 2 ounces (60 grams) and, ideally, be black, small pieces, close to 4 pounds (2 kilograms) high in carbon – the building blocks of the solar system. The asteroid is located 200 million miles (321.9 million kilometers) from Earth.
NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, likened Ben to Rosetta Stone: “It’s been there for the last billion years and tells the story of our entire planet, the solar system.”
If successful collection is confirmed, the spacecraft will begin its journey back to Earth in 2023.
Dante Loretta, OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator from the University of Arizona in Tucson, spoke about the NASA live feed from Lockheed’s Mission Support Building. “We have overcome the tremendous challenges this asteroid has thrown at us and the spacecraft seems to have malfunctioned.”
The collection device of the robotic arm, in the shape of a heavy shower head, is designed to release compressed gas to remove debris.
The spacecraft was launched in 2016 from the Kennedy Space Center for the Bennu voyage. It has been in orbit around the asteroid for almost two years for the touch and go maneuver.
Bennu, more than 4.5 billion years old, was chosen as the target because scientists believe it was the smallest part of a once-large space rock that broke during a collision between two asteroids early in solar history. System.
“Asteroids are like time capsules floating in space that can provide the fossil record of the birth of our solar system,” NASA Planetary Science Director Lori Glaze told Al Jazeera. “They can provide valuable information about how planets like ours came to be.”
Thanks to data collected from orbit, the NASA team determined two key discoveries: first, that water is between 5 and 10 percent of Bennu’s mass, and second, that its surface is filled with carbon – rich molecules. Nuclear-level analysis of samples from Bennu will help scientists better understand what role asteroids have played in bringing water to Earth and planting seeds with the prebiotic substance that provides building blocks for life.
Studying that material will help scientists find out if life exists elsewhere in the solar system.
“If this kind of chemistry was happening in the early solar system, it would probably have happened in other solar systems as well,” Loretta, lead researcher at OSIRIS-Rex, told Al Jazeera in an interview before the breakthrough on Tuesday. “It helps us estimate the probability of a source of life occurring across the galaxy and eventually across the universe.”
Japan expects samples from its second asteroid mission – mostly in milligrams – to land in the Australian desert in December.