NASA spacecraft enters orbit around ancient asteroid Bennu ahead of 2020 sample ...

A NASA spacecraft has gone into orbit around an ancient asteroid, setting a pair of records.

The Osiris-Rex spacecraft entered orbit Monday around the asteroid Bennu, 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) from Earth. 

It's the smallest celestial body ever to be orbited by a spacecraft. 

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The animation above shows our closest look yet at the space rock, showing Bennu in one full rotation from about distance 50 miles away (80 km). It was captured over the course of four hours and 18 minutes

WHAT DID NASA FIND? 

Data obtained from the spacecraft's two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), reveal the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as 'hydroxyls.' 

The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu's rocky material interacted with water. 

While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu's parent body, a much larger asteroid.

 

Bennu is just 1,600 feet (500 meters) across.

The spacecraft's laps are barely a mile (1.6 kilometers) above the asteroid's surface, another record. 

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has found water locked deep inside the asteroid it hopes to bring a sample from back to Earth. 

The craft finally arrived at asteroid Bennu last month, more than two years after blasting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Now, NASA says it 'made the right decision' choosing its target. 

'Recently analyzed data from NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has revealed water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu,' NASA said. 

'The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,' said Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

'When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.

While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu's parent body, a much larger asteroid. 

During the mission's approach phase, between mid-August and early December, the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) on its journey from Earth to arrive at a location 12 miles (19 km) from Bennu on Dec. 3. 

During this time, the science team on Earth aimed three of the spacecraft's instruments towards Bennu and began making the mission's first scientific observations of the asteroid. 

OSIRIS-REx is NASA's first asteroid sample return mission.

Data obtained from the spacecraft's two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), reveal the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as 'hydroxyls.' 

The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu's rocky material interacted with water. 

bennu_Approach_full.gif

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has finally arrived at asteroid Bennu more than two years after blasting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.The animation above shows the craft's approach to the object, beginning August 17 when it was over 1,300,000 miles from Bennu, to November 27, when it was just 40 miles away

While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu's parent body, a much larger asteroid.

One outlier from the predicted shape model is the size of the large boulder near Bennu's south pole. 

The ground-based shape model calculated this boulder to be at least 33 feet (10 meters) in height. 

Preliminary calculations from OCAMS observations show that the boulder is closer to 164 feet (50 meters) in height, with a width of approximately 180 feet (55 meters).

Bennu's surface material is a mix of very rocky, boulder-filled regions and a few relatively smooth regions that lack boulders. 

However, the quantity of boulders on the surface is higher than expected. 

OSIRIS-REx will spend the next year in orbit around its target before dropping down briefly so it can get close enough to scoop up a sample of dirt and rock from the surface. 

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