back to article FYI: NASA has sent a snatch-and-grab spacecraft to an asteroid to seize some rock and send it back to Earth

NASA's mission to send a probe to an asteroid, dig up a chunk, and send the material back to Earth is now half-way complete. The agency says its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has reached its hunk-of-rock target after a trip lasting two years and two billion miles. The spacecraft, technically the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    The asteroid, which has a width of 500 meters (1640 feet), could hit Earth between 2175 to 2196, although there is less than a 1 per cent chance of that happening, based on current data.

    Anyone worried about this? I think those of us around now will be long dead and gone by then. That is unless we have a few Immortals hanging around here.

    1. Paul J Turner

      Not actually immortals

      But many scientists studying life extension and our increasing longevity have thought for some years now that the first person to reach 300 years old has likely already been born. So, maybe some will care.

      1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Not actually immortals

        Great. The last 200 years with Alzheimer's.

      2. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

        Re: Not actually immortals

        Immortal skin is almost here, maybe the rest will follow:

        https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2015/01/telomere-extension-turns-back-aging-clock-in-cultured-cells.html

      3. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Not actually immortals

        I don't think governments or the planet in general relly need or want 7 bilion breeding immortals. If it ever becomes a real possibility, only the most special or richest and most powerful will get a look in and it will be kept as secret as possible. Such a ythin needs population control to be addressed first.

        Much more interesting is the Bennu project, this is real space exploration that will help to lead to greater things, pity we don't really have alien technology such as an inertaless drive.

        1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

          Re: Not actually immortals

          population control to be addressed first

          You're a bit out-of-date.

          The global fertility rate has halved in the last 50 years; the average woman has fewer than 2.5 children today. The reason seem to be modest improvements in prosperity and healthcare, rather than population control, which has rarely been effective.

          Of course, the global population continues to grow because of improved life expectancy. If you want to "control" that, you'll have to arrange to kill lots of people.

          1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

            Re: If you want to "control" that, you'll have to arrange to kill lots of people.

            Not necessarily.

        2. Roj Blake Silver badge

          Re: Not actually immortals

          Maybe such a thing has already happened.

          That would certainly explain those really old pictures of Nicholas Cage...

          1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

            No

            Nicholas Cage can only be explained by dark magic.

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Someone else's problem

      Fortunately "we" have 150 or more years to figure out what happens when a "rubble pile" asteroid -- if that's what Bennu actually is -- encounters the Earth's atmosphere. I suspect that the actual result may be a really spectacular light show as the object breaks up into millions of pieces that then burn up. But I could be quite wrong.

    3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      there is less than a 1 per cent chance of that happening, based on current data

      Well, they said that the chances of anything coming from Mars were a million to one...

      1. cray74 Silver badge

        there is less than a 1 per cent chance of that happening, based on current data

        So you're telling me there's a chance!

  2. Andrew Commons

    Not exactly 'snatch and grab'

    A burst of nitrogen gas will stir up regolith on the asteroid’s surface, which will be caught in the TAGSAM head.

    More like a blow job.

  3. the Jim bloke Bronze badge
    WTF?

    Serious Question

    How do they orbit something roughly 500 m in diameter?

    a) what is the attractive force ? which leads to ..

    b) how fast is the probe changing direction?

    I cant see this working unless its a powered orbit, or not an orbit at all but just a very slow flyby - with maneuvering.

    1. ridley

      Re: Serious Question

      A) Gravity

      B) 360 degrees for every sllooooww orbit

      1. the Jim bloke Bronze badge

        Re: Serious Question

        Thank you for the smart arse answer.

        Care to explain how much gravity that 500m diameter accretion of dust and mystery is generating, and how much effect that will be having at 7 kilometers distance ?

        I have made a bunch of assumptions (yes I know) and got a mass for Bennu of about 150 million tonnes, while Osiris-Rex would be somewhere around 1.5 tonnes, which online calculators works out as 0.286 milliNewtons,

        Which isn't much.

        The mass of Bennu could easily be greater, about 175 million for solid silica, the 500 metre diameter is probably a media figure and only loosely accurate...

        The 'orbit' probably is slow, but a radius around 7250 meters it is insanely tight, rough calculations tell me thats a 1 degree vector change every 126.5 meters,

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: Serious Question

          It's tighter than you think!

          Initial orbital duration is about 50 hours for the (about) 3200m orbital radius so it's barely moving relative to Osiris - 200m per hour with 1 degree vector change every 8m 20s or 28 meters.

          Gravitationally bound orbit so no motors are being used.

          - Details here

          https://www.asteroidmission.org/asteroid-operations/

        2. cray74 Silver badge

          Re: Serious Question

          Care to explain how much gravity that 500m diameter accretion of dust and mystery is generating,

          10 micro-Gs according to Wikipedia's physical characteristics panel on Bennu. It also has density and mass values.

          and how much effect that will be having at 7 kilometers distance ?

          Not much. Wellyboot already provided the reference showing Osiris is in orbit around Bennu, but there are times where the various asteroid and comet chasing probes aren't so much "orbiting the object" as "strolling around the sun beside it." Hayabusa hovered beside Itokawa for a while, and Rosetta hovered off 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko before some of its orbital operations.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Serious Question

      How do they orbit something roughly 500 m in diameter?

      A: Very carefully.

    3. Bill Gray

      Re: Serious Question

      Serious answer : you can orbit just about anything.

      The Earth has a density of about 5.5 gm/cm^3, and a low orbit around it takes about a hundred minutes. Same is true for _any_ object of that density. Bennu is about 12000 times smaller than Earth, but if it had the same density, you'd just orbit at about 1/12000 the speed (orbital speed would be about 60 cm/s) and still complete about one orbit every hundred minutes.

      Your average asteroid has a somewhat lower density than that, though, more like 3 gm/cm^3. Orbital period runs as the inverse square root of density, so the orbital period would be only slightly longer than 100 minutes and speed only slightly less than 60 cm/s.

      Also note that this is for an orbit really near the surface, which is easier for a roundish object such as the earth (disregarding equatorial bulge and atmosphere) than it would be for a small, irregular rock such as Bennu. If you need a speed of 60 cm/s near the surface (250 m from the object's center), then an orbit that is, say, a hundred times further out (25 km) would require a tenth that speed, or 6 cm/s. You'd have to do some very gentle maneuvering; exceed orbital speed by about 40% at any point, and you reach escape speed. But I suspect our friends at NASA are, in fact, being careful about that.

  4. Tromos
    Joke

    How much rock will it bring back?

    Will it be enough to make a Bennu Hill?

  5. Winkypop Silver badge
    Alert

    Careful with that TAGSAM Eugene

    Hit Bennu wrong and that 2175 to 2196 chance of collision might be > 1%

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: Careful with that TAGSAM Eugene

      Especially if we bring back something we shouldn't, and the Bennuans* want it back. Or they might just send a battle fleet, instead of risking their entire world.

      * Who, judging by the size of Bennu, are probably very, very small. After what to them might seem like thousands of years tearing across the empty wastes of space, they'd finally dive screaming onto Earth - and due to their terrible miscalculation of scale, all we'd need to defend ourselves is a small dog.**

      ** With apologies to Douglas Adams for rewriting that to fit the set up.

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Re: Careful with that TAGSAM Eugene

        Upvoted for the ancient Pink Floyd reference!

  6. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    Looking forward to the Great Andromeda Strain Outbreak in 2023 then...

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Andromeda_Strain_(film)

    1. vir Silver badge

      But you can prevent infection by drinking heavily and the organism takes care of itself in a few days...could be worse.

  7. Esme

    "...it may contain water and clays from the protoplasmic disc that formed the Sun and the planets in our Solar System...."

    It won't contain any clays unless I'm more out of touch with notions on how bodies form from a stellar accretion disk than I realised. So far as I'm aware clays only form due to the chemical weathering of rocks.

    1. cray74 Silver badge

      It won't contain any clays unless I'm more out of touch with notions on how bodies form from a stellar accretion disk than I realised.

      Asteroidal clay has been proposed for radiation shielding. Unfortunately, my lackadaisical search didn't find any substantial papers on clay and asteroids, just discussions that assumed the clay existed.

      1. Esme

        @cray74 - thank you! Just had chance to do a search on the subject at lunchbreak myself, and I see that there are indeed reports of clay detections on asteroids, eg: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0019103581900555

        Hmmnn.. - wonder if this is in-situ creation of clay by small-scale chemistry, or if the asteroidal clay is all from a large body that had free water on it before it broke up?

        In any case - I was wrong (and have been wrong for an embarassing number of years!), and thank you for pointing out the gap in my knowledge!

  8. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Coat

    Giant wombats in space?

    It's just that Bennu's shape reminds me of wombat droppings.

    Actually, "Giant Wombats in Space" sounds like a 1950s Aussie SciFi B-grade movie title.

    Deary me, I'd better get going. The roo-leather Barmah hat too please

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Giant wombats in space?

      Maybe related to "Not the Nine O'clock News" phrase "My wombat is constipated"?

      This could relate to a large - possibly orbital - wombat who was facing the correct direction when they ceased to be constipated.

      More background here also...

      1. WonkoTheSane
        Headmaster

        Re: Giant wombats in space?

        "Maybe related to "Not the Nine O'clock News" phrase "My wombat is constipated"?"

        Actually related to a recent scientific study that revealed exactly how wombats make their crap come out Bennu-shaped.

    2. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Giant wombats in space?

      I'm worried - it looks like a Borg cube.

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: Giant wombats in space?

        "I'm worried - it looks like a Borg cube."

        Perhaps it's the one from the documentary "Star Trek - First Contact" but the documentary makers got it wrong. They had it as a sphere, when it was really a normal cube. When the Borg cube actually travelled back in time, it went a bit too far, right back to the formation of the solar system, and as a result of waiting around since then it has accreted so much matter that it now looks like an oddly cuboid asteroid. The plan might be for the Borg to arouse when they receive any indication that we are about to achieve warp capability, shed the matter, and carry on as per the documentary.

        In order to ascertain if this is so, we need to study other asteroids more closely and see if we can identify one that vaguely resembles NCC1701-E.

  9. trevorde
    Joke

    But, but, but...

    ... why isn't it flat? Like Earth?

  10. AndrueC Silver badge
    Alien

    That seems to be a curiously square sided asteroid. Are we absolutely sure that digging a chunk out of it is a good idea?

    :)

    1. BigSLitleP

      We'll start by putting one dent on one side, then 6 dents on the opposite side.....

      1. Steve K Silver badge

        Maybe

        If it’s on a collision course that is dicing with death?

  11. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    Osiris

    Whoever named that wasn't thinking about Egyptian mythology.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My spacecraft went to Bennu

    and all It got me was this lousy sample.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My spacecraft went to Bennu

      My hovercraft is full of eels?

  13. JJKing Bronze badge
    Coat

    The Benefits.

    Great. The last 200 years with Alzheimer's.

    Just think of the benefits.

    1. You will always make new friends.

    2. You will forget the bad things that happen.

    3. You will always make new friends.

    Mines the one with the memory stick in the pocket.

  14. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    ORGASM

    Osiris Rex Geologic-Al Sampling Mechanism

  15. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Dante's Inferno

    ...said Dante Lauretta, the mission's principal investigator.

    ...the sealed sample contained will reenter the atmosphere using a heat shield and float back to scientists via parachute into the Utah desert.

    The re-entry fireball

  16. derfer
    Joke

    If the probe is going to 'settle into a steady orbit a few miles above the surface' surely the TAGSAM needs to be a bit longer than 11 ft to pick some bits off the surface?

  17. Potemkine! Silver badge
    Trollface

    In which city was the movie recorded?

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