In its latest bulletin, NASA has warned of five Near-Earth Objects headed towards our planet this week, one of which is larger than the Statue of Liberty. Meanwhile, the agency is gearing up for its asteroid-sampling mission.
It’ll be a ferocious finale to September, as five space rocks measuring between 11 meters and 110 meters in diameter are due in just three days.
Kicking things off on Monday will be the 11-meter, telephone pole-sized 2020 SY4, which will come within 724,000km of Earth at a blistering pace of 16.12km/s (58,032kph, or 21 times as fast as a bullet (2,736kph).
On Tuesday, the behemoth 2020 PM7, which has a diameter of 110 meters, will shoot past at a safe distance of 2.8 million km. The giant rock is equivalent to 30 Volkswagen Beetles end-to-end, or about one-and-one-fifth times as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
To close the show, on September 30, three space rocks will fly by our planetary backyard:
2020 SV5, measuring 20m in diameter (a little over the size of a typical bowling alley), will shoot past at a distance of 1.2 million km; 2020 SQ, measuring 12m (that’s eight Danny DeVitos) will swerve us at a distance of 2.1 million km; and, last but not least, 2020 SO2, measuring 37m (half the wingspan of a 747) will miss us by 6.9 million km.
Meanwhile, NASA boffins are busy preparing for the agency’s first-ever asteroid-sampling mission, following in the footsteps of Japanese space agency JAXA’s success on board the asteroid Ryugu.
On October 20, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe will touch down on the 1,640ft-wide (500 meter) space rock Bennu, having hovered in orbit for the past two years.
The end zone is a small crater dubbed Nightingale, with the probe aiming to hit a 26ft-wide (8 meter) boulder-free target zone from which to take samples.
“This spot is just the width of a few parking places and is surrounded by large, boulder-like structures the size of small buildings,” said Mike Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
It’ll be a tricky maneuver, as there’s an 18-minute delay in signals reaching the rock from Earth. The OSIRIS-REx probe will touch down for just a few seconds with its 11ft-long (3.4 meter) robotic arm, blasting the asteroid’s surface with nitrogen gas and collecting the debris with a sampling device the team have likened to a car’s air filter.
They are aiming to collect roughly 2oz (60g) of space dust from the rock. All going well, OSIRIS-REx will depart Bennu in March 2021 and is expected to land in the Utah desert some time on September 24, 2023.
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