Today, NASA will attempt to grab tiny pieces of an asteroid called Bennu — and to mark the occasion, the agency has created a 360-degree video that will take you along for the ride.
The agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, known officially as the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security and Regolith Explorer, has spent two years orbiting and scouting Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid about the size of Big Ben’s tower in London. All that work has led up to the big day, today (Oct. 20), when the spacecraft will attempt to snatch pieces of the asteroid to carry back to scientists on Earth.
And, as NASA’s 360-degree video makes clear, sampling is an ambitious endeavor.
After OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in 2018, its data proved that the asteroid is much rockier than scientists had suspected from more distant observations. Mission scientists had thought they would have plenty of wide dusty areas to choose from for the sampling maneuver; instead, they had to develop a new, more sensitive sampling technique that could sample from the small patches of relative smoothness on the asteroid.
The winning site is called Nightingale, a region on Bennu located in a dark crater near the north pole of the asteroid, which you can explore in detail in the 360 video as you learn about the sampling process. The spacecraft will make its attempt at about 6:12 p.m. EDT (2212 GMT), with NASA broadcasting coverage throughout the afternoon.
Visit Space.com today for complete coverage of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid-sampling attempt at Bennu.