Photograph of a black container holding the recently returned asteroid sample, symbolizing the successful mission and scientific exploration.

In an exhilarating moment on Sunday, September 24, 2023, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft accomplished a remarkable feat – it safely delivered an asteroid sample to Earth. This celestial traveler, known as Bennu, belongs to the Apollo group of asteroids and has been classified as “potentially hazardous” due to its proximity to our planet. NASA treated the world to a live broadcast of this momentous event as the asteroid sample descended through our atmosphere, landing in Utah’s desert floor, just three minutes ahead of schedule. For those who missed it, a replay of the coverage is available [here]

 The mission to return the asteroid sample unfolded with a flawless descent and touch-down in Utah’s desert on September 24, 2023. This image was sourced from X/NASA HQ Photo.

 A Safe Arrival

Swiftly responding to the touchdown, ground teams ensured the site’s safety and decided to transport the precious asteroid sample to a meticulously clean room in Utah. Eventually, this sample will find its way to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where it will be distributed to scientists worldwide for comprehensive study and analysis.

But the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft didn’t linger. It bid farewell to Earth, embarking on its next mission with a new name: OSIRIS-APEX, signifying “Apophis Explorer.” Yes, you guessed it right; the craft’s next destination is the infamous asteroid, Apophis.

Tremendous Excitement Surrounding the Asteroid Sample!

 OSIRIS-REx’s Extraordinary Journey

The OSIRIS-REx mission commenced in 2016, culminating in its arrival at Bennu’s doorstep in 2018. The most pivotal moment came in 2020 when the spacecraft gently touched down on Bennu’s surface, deftly collecting material from the asteroid’s rugged terrain. With its precious cargo secured, OSIRIS-REx set course for Earth in 2021.

When OSIRIS-REx plunged the asteroid sample back to Earth early on that Sunday morning, it endured a thrilling descent through our atmosphere. At its initial contact with the atmosphere, it hurtled at an astonishing speed of approximately 27,650 mph (44,500 kph). Shielded by a robust heat shield, the capsule briefly transformed into a superheated fireball.

Gradually, a series of parachutes deployed, decelerating the capsule’s descent. By the time it touched down in the Utah desert, it had slowed to a mere 11 mph (18 kph).

 This marks the journey of the asteroid sample after OSIRIS-REx released it on Sunday, September 24, 2023. The capsule re-entered Earth’s atmosphere to the south of San Francisco. From there, it soared over central California and Nevada, making its way towards the Utah desert, located southwest of Salt Lake City, where it would finally touch down. The image is credited to NASA.

NASA reports that the asteroid sample from Bennu weighs an estimated 8.8 ounces, equivalent to 250 grams. It represents NASA’s maiden collection of an asteroid sample and happens to be the largest ever retrieved from space. For a more visual experience, check out the video below.

You can view a video that provides a detailed account of how OSIRIS-REx delivered an asteroid sample to Earth. This precious sample, collected from asteroid Bennu, safely arrived on our planet on September 24, 2023.

 The Ongoing Odyssey to Apophis

Following the sample delivery, OSIRIS-APEX, as it is now known, prevented any potential collision with Earth by firing its thrusters. It embarked on its next great journey – a rendezvous with the infamous asteroid Apophis. Mark your calendars for Friday, April 13, 2029, when this 1,100-foot (340-meter) space rock will pass within a mere 19,662 miles (31,643 km) of Earth’s surface. That’s closer than many of our orbiting satellites.

In April 2029, when the asteroid Apophis comes closest to Earth, the spacecraft OSIRIS-APEX will be right there to watch and study it. This image has been provided by NASA.

As Apophis interacts with Earth’s gravitational pull, it may trigger asteroid quakes on its surface and slightly alter its orbit. For some fortunate observers, Apophis will be visible as it passes by.

While concerns once existed about a potential Earth collision, rest assured that Apophis will not pose a threat. OSIRIS-APEX, now in its extended mission phase, will orbit and study Apophis for a year and a half. During this time, the spacecraft will venture close enough to the asteroid to stir up loose surface material, unveiling more secrets of these celestial wanderers.

 So here I have made a list of events in a tabular manner for easy understanding of the blog post

Date and Time        Event                                              
2016                OSIRIS-REx spacecraft takes off from Earth, beginning its mission.
2018             The spacecraft arrives at Bennu, a rocky asteroid in space.       
2020                   OSIRIS-REx gently touches down on Bennu’s surface, collecting material.
2021                 The spacecraft starts its journey back to Earth with its precious cargo.
September 24, 2023    The big moment arrives as OSIRIS-REx’s capsule re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.
3:00 AM (UTC)        The capsule starts its descent into Earth’s atmosphere.    
3:03 AM (UTC)         The capsule lands safely in Utah’s desert, arriving three minutes ahead of schedule.
Bennu’s Gift          Inside the capsule is a special gift – a piece of Bennu weighing about 8.8 ounces (250 grams).
Name Change           OSIRIS-REx becomes OSIRIS-APEX (Apophis Explorer) for its next mission.
April 13, 2029 (events happening in the future)       OSIRIS-APEX encounters the famous asteroid Apophis, passing within 19,662 miles (31,643 km) of Earth.
a systemic representation of events

So, in simple terms, OSIRIS-REx went to Bennu, grabbed a piece of it, and safely delivered it to Earth. Now, it’s off to explore Apophis. This cosmic journey reminds us of the wonders of space, like an epic adventure unfolding among the stars!

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By Rishiranjan jha

Rishiranjan Jha: Skilled mechanical engineer with five years of experience in design. I'm captivated by the cosmos and have a keen interest in astronomy. Painting is my creative outlet, allowing me to connect with the universe. Engineering, astronomy, and art shape a well-rounded individual driven by exploration, imagination, and a love for the stars.

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