The Osiris-Rex space probe nestles close to a sample. Soon it collides on its frozen surface. And it's about determining the fate of humanity.
The asteroid is called Bennu. Astronomers have calculated that it has a probability of 1 in 2700 to hit the earth on September 25, 2135.
These sound like long chances.
But in astronomical terms they are worryingly small.
And when it strikes, it will strike with the force that is 80,000 times more powerful than the bomb on Hiroshima.
It is one of the reasons why NASA sent the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Sequential – Regolith Explorer (Osiris-Rex) to inspect it. And collect samples.
If all goes well, the probe will pick up some of the debris on its surface in December. When it is finished, it sets its course back to earth and delivers its load for study in 2023.
At the moment Osiris-Rex is gradually moving closer to Bennu at a distance of about 2 million kilometers. It examines the surface and the environment for unexpected obstacles.
Osiris-Rex was launched on top of an Atlas V rocket in September 2016. It passed the sun before it returned to earth to use gravity for a slingshot boost & # 39; in speed to his distant rendezvous.
SPECIAL FUNCTION: NASA's plan to ward off Bennu
Bennu himself moves around the sun at speeds of up to 202,000 km / h. The probe has completed the process of adjusting the orbit of the asteroid and participates in the final of a series of fracture maneuvers to bring it close.
Once there, a jet of inert nitrogen gas will be directed onto the surface of the asteroid in an attempt to blow loose dust and pebbles.
He then carefully drives away from Bennu, waiting to reach a safe distance before firing his main engines for the journey back to earth. It is expected to parachute to the Utah desert.
The example, research and mapping project will hopefully reveal something about the nature of the beast. Is it a bundle of rocks? Is it a piece of metal? Is it just a dirty snowball floating around in space?
Each state carries with it a different set of implications if it would stray to come close to the earth.
And NASA is ready to let us know its first observations this Saturday.
Osiris-Rex will poke Bennu for only five seconds. That is just long enough to pick up a meaningful sample.
By the time the probe brings it back to Earth, it will have been on a seven-year mission.
Insight into what it is made of and how it works will help refine the calculations made to assess the 2135 risk – both in terms of whether it will strike, and how fatally such an impact would be.