OSIRIS-REx observes the Bennu asteroid one last time before returning home with its samples.

This Wednesday, April 7, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will fly over asteroid Bennu for the last time before heading back to Earth. However, it will not be until May 10 that the probe will begin its return journey with the samples obtained by the spacecraft. And we will still have to wait two years before knowing what is in the sample capsule that OSIRIS-REx has taken in Bennu.

This will be the OSIRIS-REx’s last close encounter with the asteroid Bennu and NASA will use it to take new images and test how the other instruments work after the sample collection event on October 20.

This maneuver was not planned. The NASA team carrying out the OSIRIS-REx mission has added this latest flyby after the touch and go. Since after the maneuver of collecting samples they observed that the surface of the asteroid Bennu had been disturbed. Both at the site where the samples were taken and in the surrounding region. This is a perfect opportunity to learn how the contact of the NASA mission affected the asteroid Bennu.

NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Handout

The OSIRIS-REx mission will spend 5.9 hours taking pictures of the asteroid. This time is more than a period of rotation of Bennu (4 hours and 20 minutes), so we can see the northern and southern hemispheres, and its entire equatorial region. Furthermore, lThe PolyCam camera will be in charge of taking the photographs and they will all be high resolution. This is essential because this way it can be compared with the images obtained in 2019 and we will really know how the asteroid has been after the collection of samples.

In addition, as we also mentioned during these hours of observation of Bennu, the OSIRIS-REx mission will start up the rest of your instruments. This will be used to see if the dust that clogged them in the pickup has damaged the tools. The idea is to know if the NASA probe can do some extra work after returning the samples to Earth. Therefore, assessing the status of these instruments is essential to determine whether to send OSIRIS-REx to observe other things or retire it after the delivery of the samples in 2023.

OSIRIS-REx, back home

In the next few days, NASA will receive the data sent by OSIRIS-REx to Earth, as explained by the agency in a press release. The last flyby of the mission will show us how the asteroid Bennu has been after the NASA visit.

On May 10, the OSIRIS-REx probe will head to Earth to bring samples from Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx probe will be in the area until next May 10. At that time you will start your way back to Earth. A path that will take more than two years to bring almost two kilos of dust and rocks to our planet. With them we will get to know Bennu much better, although we already know that it is a «primitive type asteroid», as astrophysicist Julia de León, a researcher at the Insituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and collaborator in the mission NASA to study this asteroid.

If everything goes according to plan, On September 24, 2023, the OSIRIS-REx mission will drop the samples in a capsule and they will parachute into the Utah Training Proving Grounds. It will be seven years since the NASA mission left for Bennu. In 2016, he left a very different world to which the samples will return. But here we are hoping to unveil all the secrets of the asteroid Bennu.