Skip to Content
Space

A NASA space probe has just arrived at the asteroid Bennu to study it

December 3, 2018

NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft has arrived at the asteroid Bennu and will shortly start studying the rock, in the hope it can uncover clues about the origin of our solar system.

The news: The spacecraft reached Bennu shortly after noon US eastern time today, after a two-year journey. This is the first NASA mission with the aim of returning an asteroid sample. It’s also the smallest object any spacecraft has ever orbited.

The mission: It will survey the asteroid from an orbit of roughly one mile, before attempting to bounce off the surface in July 2020 and collect a sample, using nitrogen gas to shift rock and other materials so it can be grabbed by an arm mechanism. The craft has enough nitrogen gas for three attempts, if this first try doesn’t work. The Osiris-Rex (which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) is due to return the sample to Earth in September 2023.

All about Bennu: Bennu is a primitive, carbon-rich asteroid believed to be made up of leftovers from the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Its orbit switches between those of Earth and Mars, making it what’s officially called a “near-Earth asteroid.” It is about 1,600 feet (488 meters) wide and most likely broke away from a larger asteroid between Mars and Jupiter a couple of billion years ago.

 

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.