Australia looks skyward for NASA spacecraft swoop

Australia looks skyward for NASA spacecraft swoop

Published: 13 September 2017
Image credit: NASA

Out in the far reaches of space… a complicated machine is hurtling towards Australia at breakneck speed.

But don’t break out the torches and pitchforks for the alien invasion just yet – it’s a three-metre wide NASA probe on a mission to collect asteroid samples.

The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) was launched last year, and is now on its way back to earth for a ‘gravitational assist’ which will slingshot it on its way to an asteroid in our solar system named Bennu.

The spacecraft will come within 17,000 km of Earth during the operation, which will use the earth’s gravity to propel OSIRIS-REx to a speed matching Bennu’s.

Scientists hope the spacecraft will be able to reach the asteroid in 2018 and collect about 60 grams of sample material from the asteroid to bring back to earth by 2023.

OSIRIS-REx’s flight path over Earth. Photo: NASA

The material will be studied to help understand processes that propel an asteroid through space, and to predict whether Bennu or another asteroid will eventually collide with earth.

The probe is expected to pass over Rockhampton in Queensland at about 12.22am on September 22, travelling south-southwest to shoot over Adelaide at about 12.53am, before making its way to Antarctica and then deep space.

While our brief visitor won’t be visible to the naked eye, the spacecraft will be visible to anyone with a ‘half-decent’ telescope or telephonic lens, according to News Corp.

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