Updated: September 28, 2020 10:23 PM
Created: September 28, 2020 10:18 PM
NASA's Osiris-Rex (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) is preparing to touchdown on asteroid Bennu's boulder-strewn surface on October 20.
The spacecraft will go down to site Nightingale, a rocky area 52 ft (16 m) in diameter in Bennu's northern hemisphere surface, for a few seconds and collect a sample of the asteroid's rocks and dust.
It'll be the first time NASA will get pieces of an asteroid. The spacecraft will return to Earth in 2023.
Scientists are eager to study material from a carbon-rich asteroid like dark Bennu, which could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
Osiris-Rex aims to collect at least 60 grams, or 2 ounces, of dust and gravel.
The spacecraft won't land, but rather use a 10-foot (3-meter) mechanical arm in 2020 to momentarily touchdown and vacuum up particles.
The collection — parachuting down to Utah — would represent the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The robotic explorer Osiris-Rex landed on Bennu on December 4, 2018, its first visitor in billions of years.
About the size of an SUV, the spacecraft shadowed the asteroid for a year.
NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples.
Bennu is considered potentially a hazardous asteroid.
That means it could smack Earth years from now.
At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now.
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