Nasa has taken a major step forward in its mission to collect a sample from the so-called ‘apocalypse asteroid’ Bennu and return it to Earth.
The space rock got its name because there’s a very small chance of us hitting us next century.
A probe called OSIRIS-REx is currently in orbit around Bennu and is meticulously mapping its surface.
Now it’s located four spots which are the safest places to land, scoop up a sample and then blast off on a long journey home.
The targets were named Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey, and Sandpiper – which are all birds native to Egypt – whilst the rock itself is named after a Egyptian god who played in a role in the creation of the world.
The crucial landing will take place in 2020.
Bennu’s surface is covered by rocks and boulders, so OSIRIS-REx will have to perform a tricky touchdown in a tiny space.
‘We knew that Bennu would surprise us, so we came prepared for whatever we might find,’ said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
‘As with any mission of exploration, dealing with the unknown requires flexibility, resources and ingenuity. The OSIRIS-REx team has demonstrated these essential traits for overcoming the unexpected throughout the Bennu encounter.’
Bennu was built to land in a large area clear of debris, but the reality of Bennu’s rocky topography means it will have to carefully alight in space of up to 20 metres wide.
‘Although OSIRIS-REx was designed to collect a sample from an asteroid with a beach-like area, the extraordinary in-flight performance to date demonstrates that we will be able to mee