Six months ago, OSIRIS-REx, NASA’s probe to orbit around the space rock Bennu, started circling the planetary body at a distance of 1.3 kilometers approximately equal to just 0.8 of a mile on December 31, 2018. That was the closest any probe had ever orbited around any planetary body. However, the same OSIRIS-REx has went on to cut that distance into half to shatter the record it had set six months back by orbiting just 0.68 kilometers away from the rock Bennu’s surface.
Rock Bennu is 1,650 foot wide and is a part of NASA’s asteroid-sampling study. The ISIRIS-REx will stay in the orbit B (0.68 kms away) until the second week of August. In the first two weeks, it will picture the horizon of Bennu to help understand the particle ejection events that the team had observed earlier this year. In the next five weeks after that, ISIRIS-REx will use up its scientific instruments to study the details of Bennu. The USD 800 million worth project will then collect samples from Bennu and send it down to earth by 2023. This is NASA’s to understand the role that could have been played by asteroids in bringing life on Earth. Japan too has been studying asteroids, and its attempt, named the Hayabusa2, to study the asteroid Ryugu has already collected samples, and if everything goes to plan, will deliver it to Earth by 2020.
Talking of life outside Earth, scientists studying Jupiter and its moons have observed that one of Jupiter’s moons, called Europa, has the second greatest chances after Earth of life’s existence. The scientists have observed water on the moon’s surface buried under a thick sheet of ice. The water is observed to be as salty as Earth’s oceans which further strengthens the probability of life on that surface.