NASA is collecting space dirt from an asteroid that could kill us



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A composite image of Bennu taken from OSIRIS-REX at a distance of 330 km (205 miles).

NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

If Earth is annihilated by an asteroid in the next hundred years, Bennu may be the only one to do so.

Officially known as 101955 Bennu, the asteroid is the size of the Empire State Building and has a "not insignificant probability of impacting the Earth." according to NASA. In fact, Bennu is second in the Technical Impact Scale of Palermo, which is effectively the classification of the Earth of "what will end us all?"

So, if we had the chance to visit him, would we certainly send a team of rowdy miners to blow it up, instead of traveling seven years to collect some of the top dirt?

But remember, this is NASA we're talking about.


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NASA is on a mission to collect space dirt …


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In this week's episode of Watch This Space, let's take a look at the OSIRIS-REx-NASA mission of making contact with Bennu (for five seconds) to collect dust from the surface and bring it back to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx's Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition Engine (TAGSAM) will make contact with the asteroid and blast gas on its surface to sweep a dust sample.

NASA

It may sound like a long way to go for a bit of dust, but this material (known as "regolith") can tell us a lot. According to NASA, asteroids are essentially "remnants of the formation process of the solar system," so that its composition can shed light on the history of our solar system, how it was formed and even how planets like Earth came to be .

OSIRIS-REx arrived in Bennu on December 3 and will spend a little less than a year examining the asteroid for adequate space to land. When the perfect spot is found, the spacecraft will contact the surface of the asteroid for about five seconds, sending an explosion of nitrogen gas to disturb the dust and boulders on the surface to be captured in the spacecraft and brought back to Earth.

At the end of their seven-year mission, NASA scientists will be able to examine this material and learn more about where we came from, and potentially even find "molecular precursors to the origin of life and Earth's oceans," according to NASA.

If you want to know more about the other amazingly cool things NASA and other space agencies are doing, check out the full Watch this Space on YouTube series.

NASA is 60 years old: the space agency has taken mankind further than anyone else and has plans to go further.

Taking it to extremes: Mix up insane situations – erupting volcanoes, nuclear collapses, 30 foot waves – with everyday technology. See what happens.

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