NASA space probe leaves huge mess in space after grabbing asteroid samples

A NASA spacecraft that grabbed a load of asteroid rubble last year for return to Earth, left a huge mess in space.

The Osiris-Rex spacecraft made one final flyby of asteroid Bennu on April 7 to take photos of the disturbance left by October’s sample collection. A depression was visible where Osiris-Rex penetrated the asteroid”s surface.

Boulders were hurled by the pressurized nitrogen gas that was fired at the ground to churn up material for vacuuming, and by the spacecraft”s getaway thruster. One 1-ton boulder was flung an estimated 40 feet. The Osiris-Rex team meticulously plotted the final flyover to ensure the best shots.

The pictures were taken around noon to avoid shadows and better see the changes on Bennu’s rocky surface.

“These observations were not in the original mission plan, so we were excited to go back and document what we did,” the University of Arizona’s Dathon Golish said in a statement.

Osiris-Rex will depart Bennu’s vicinity next month and head back toward Earth with its precious 2-pound sample load. It’s due to arrive in 2023. The solar-orbiting, carbon-rich asteroid is 182 million miles from Earth.

By studying pieces of it, scientists hope to better understand how our solar system’s planets formed and how people should react if an asteroid endangers Earth.

Beyond the cloud on Earth lies a stretch of inner orbit, a border between Earth’s atmosphere and harsh outer space is littered with space junk. There is more than 8,000 metric tons of debris in the lower orbit made up of dead satellites, spent rocket parts, nuts and bolts and metal objects, and other objects sent to space.

Between the vacuum of space and the gravity of earth, all of these keep floating around in the lower orbit, along with the functional satellites. Some of them fly at the speed of 18,000 miles per hour.

This combination of 2019 and 2021 images shows how the local surface of Bennu changed after the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft took a sample of the asteroid on Oct 20, 2020. The earlier image, top, was taken on March 7, 2019, and the bottom was taken on April 7, 2021.