Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Osiris-Rex
Mains level: Space missions and their objectives
Water traces on asteroid
- NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has discovered ingredients for water on a nearby skyscraper-sized asteroid that may hold clues to the origins of life on the earth.
- OSIRIS-REx, which flew last week within a scant 19 km of the asteroid Bennu some 2.25 million km from the earth, has found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules.
- The OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is a NASA asteroid study and sample-return mission launched in 2016.
- The mission’s main goal is to obtain a sample of at least 60 grams (2.1 oz) from 101955 Bennu, a carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid, and return the sample to Earth for a detailed analysis.
- Bennu orbits the Sun at roughly the same distance as the earth.
- There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting earth late in the 22nd century.
Why study asteroids?
- Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.
- Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life.
- Atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.
Sample collection and fly-back
- When samples of this material are returned by the mission to the earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.
- OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.9 km from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analysing its terrain.
- From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiralling to within 2 meters of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.
- The spacecraft will later fly back to the earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen in September 2023.