You are here


September 6, 2016

Anytime you make something, you can expect to have some raw materials left over. For a house, it’s nails and scraps of wood. For a dress, it’s scraps of fabric. And for the solar system’s planets, it’s chunks of ice and rock — the asteroids and comets that didn’t get incorporated into the planets.

Studying that debris can reveal important details about how the planets were born. And a new mission is expected to do just that.

OSIRIS-Rex is scheduled for launch as early as this week. It’ll spend a couple of years reaching its target, a small asteroid called Bennu. It’ll scan the asteroid from every angle, then touch down and scoop up some of the dust at its surface — anywhere from a few ounces to a few pounds. It’ll then bring that material back to Earth for analysis.

Ed Beshore is one of the project scientists:

BESHORE: The first job in the mission is to try to identify the materials that might be representative of the materials that the solar system was originally constructed from. So what we expect to find at our target asteroid is very pristine, very ancient solar system material....

What we’re really talking about doing is finding an object that may harbor information about what that original material was like, and also lead to important clues about where the Earth’s water came from and where some of the organics might have originated. Are the organics something that are unique to the Earth, or are they found even in these primitive bodies?

— learning about Earth’s past by studying some solar-system leftovers.

More about OSIRIS-Rex tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.