tech2 News StaffMay 27, 2019 14:42:10 IST
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is circulating asteroid Bennu since December 2018, mapping its terrain and finding the perfect place to land. It will collect a sample from the asteroid, in the same way in which Japan’s Hayabusa 2 did to on asteroid Ryugu. OSIRIS-REx is expected to collect a 60 gram sample from the asteroid.
However, an unseen obstacle to this mission is that the surface of Bennu is very rocky with big and unstable boulders, which came as a surprise to the NASA scientists. This instability can be dangerous and in such a situation the consequences are unknown. A miss-step on a loose rock can harm the body of the spacecraft.
Bennu is the perfect asteroid to land on with a rotation every 4.3 hours and a diameter of almost 500 meters. In an effort to include the public or citizen scientist, the lead investigator Dante Lauretta has asked the public to help scientists to map the surface of the asteroid and find the suitable spot to land on. They have also asked them to tag any interesting features of the asteroid that are worth studying.
NASA has collaborated with CosmoQuest which is a project that supports citizen scientists and is run from the Planetary Science Institute. The app will allow people to map craters, rocks, boulders using a web interface. The app has a detailed and interactive tutorial, supported via a Discord community along with live streams on Twitch — a game streaming platform.
People can map the surface till 10 July, after which the spot will be selected and the collection process named TAG (Touch And Go) will begin. The spacecraft will return to Earth along with its precious cargo in September 2020.
The asteroid was selected for a sample collection mission because it is very old and some of its particles and minerals might be older than the solar system. It is also a fragment that was leftover from the Big Bang and is very well preserved. This means that it is a very useful source of information for the origin of life.
Other than giving us a better look into the past, it will help us understand the future better. Examining one asteroid can help us understand other asteroids. It is also a valuable source of materials like platinum, iron and aluminum. The hydrogen and oxygen trapped in the asteroid can also be used to make rocket fuel and that would be incredibly useful as well. Studying Bennu will give us significant insights for future missions whether asteroids can be used as fuel stations or not.
The samples that will be brought back to Earth will be helpful for future generations to study, analyse and understand.
To volunteer as a Bennu mapper, visit: Bennu.cosmoquest.org
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