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Busy days ahead for UA asteroid sampling mission

Must pick sampling site soon
Posted at 7:18 PM, May 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-27 22:18:04-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - University of Arizona scientists have a lot of work coming up on Earth---and in space, as UA's Osiris Rex Asteroid mission heads for some key milestones.

Osiris Rex has always had an ambitious mission---go into orbit around a small asteroid called Bennu---measure its shape and gravity field--then ease in, grab a sample, and bring it back to Earth.

The sample could help us understand how planets formed and give clues to how life began. Some of the other science could help preserve life by helping us learn how to divert asteroids headed for Earth.

Once Osiris Rex came close to Bennu, it turned out to be much rockier than expected. Dante Lauretta is the project's chief scientist.

“Bennu is certainly presenting a challenge for us. So that's one of the issues that we're going through right now. We have to target a much tighter site on the surface than we had originally designed to. So there's a lot of intensive high resolution analysis also upgrades to the spacecraft flight system in order to be able to achieve what we call our Bullseye sampling.”

To find a sampling site where rocks will not keep Osiris Rex from vacuuming up a sample, scientists have asked the public to help count rocks, by signing onto a special website.

The Osiris Rex team is set to pick its sampling site in July.

While that work rolls on, Bennu's been rolling out other surprises. It's spewing particles into space.

Dante Lauretta says, “We didn't expect to see that happening. It's an amazing scientific phenomena.”

KGUN9 Reporter Craig Smith asked: “If you're trying to figure out how the planets formed, does that offer any interesting information?”

Lauretta: “We're really learning how objects like Benny may disintegrate when they get into the inner solar system. So yeah, it tells us about the dynamics of our solar system and how these kinds of asteroids wandered in and ultimately delivered the building blocks for life."