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Current Affairs

Asteroid Bennu

Date: 24 October 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft briefly touched asteroid Bennu, from where it is meant to collect samples of dust and pebbles and deliver them back to Earth in 2023.

 

Background

The asteroid was named after an Egyptian deity by a nine-year-old boy from North Carolina in 2013 who won NASA’s “Name that Asteroid” competition. 

 

Details

  • Asteroids are rocky objects that orbit the Sun, much smaller than planets. They are also called minor planets. According to NASA, 994,383 is the count of known asteroids, the remnants from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago.

  • Asteroids are divided into three classes. First, those found in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which is estimated to contain somewhere between 1.1-1.9 million asteroids.

  • The second group is that of trojans, which are asteroids that share an orbit with a larger planet. NASA reports the presence of Jupiter, Neptune, and Mars trojans. In 2011, they reported an Earth trojan as well.

  • The third classification is Near-Earth Asteroids (NEA), which have orbits that pass close by the Earth. Those that cross the Earth’s orbit are called Earth-crossers. More than 10,000 such asteroids are known, out of which over 1,400 are classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).

 

OSIRIS-REx mission

  • This is NASA’s first mission meant to return a sample from the ancient asteroid. The mission is essentially a seven-year-long voyage and will conclude when at least 60 grams of samples are delivered back to the Earth.

  • As per NASA, the mission promises to bring the largest amount of extraterrestrial material back to our planet since the Apollo era.

  • The spacecraft contains five instruments meant to explore Bennu including cameras, a spectrometer and a laser altimeter. 

 

Significance of study

  • Scientists study asteroids to look for information about the formation and history of planets and the sun since asteroids were formed at the same time as other objects in the solar system. Another reason for tracking them is to look for asteroids that might be potentially hazardous.

  • It is for these reasons that scientists are interested in gathering information about this particular asteroid.

  • Significantly, Bennu hasn’t undergone drastic changes since its formation over billions of years ago and therefore it contains chemicals and rocks dating back to the birth of the solar system.