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Home / Science / Spacecraft encounter with asteroid Bennu is test run for defending Earth – Axios

Spacecraft encounter with asteroid Bennu is test run for defending Earth – Axios



On December 3, the NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at the Bennu Asteroid near Earth. During the next year, it will orbit around the asteroid to look for the best places to land and collect samples before returning them to Earth in 2023.

Why it matters: Analyzing Bennu can help scientists learn more the composition of the asteroid, which could lead to new discoveries about how life has evolved in the universe.

But there is another reason why researchers are interested in the contents of this space rock: they want to know more about how they could do it, in the short run, divert, divert or destroy an asteroid that find in a collision course potentially devastating with the Earth.

The multi-institution research team has modeled a possible planetary defense mission against Bennu, based on the limited information they had on the small space object, according to Cathy Plesko, an applied physics researcher at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

  • They did it to improve their modeling, not because they really believed Bennu was a threat to the Earth, he adds.

The computer models that used Plesko tells Axios, gave them a good hypothesis about the shape and composition of the asteroid.

  • New data from the close encounter with Bennu can allow the team to refine their models.
  • There are already some surprises, says Plesko, including the discovery that the surface of Bennu is made up of rubble tiles with large boulders. The structured surface was not in the initial models of the team and will require changes to be made in their models.

Subsequent projects: A basic task for scientists is to determine the uncertainty of their models, in case it is necessary to save humanity from an asteroid of the extinction.

  • In all, there are 2 dozen groups of researchers working on this problem, with Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories all involved.
  • Plesko says planetary defense is a new field but has made progress in detecting potentially destructive asteroids, for example.

However, without a spacecraft or a plan ready for the mission, if we were to find an object on a collision course with Earth tomorrow, Plesko says, "We're still hard enough to stop it from happening."


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