Why chase an asteroid?
To learn about, and protect, the Earth.
For starters, to gather information and possibly protect the planet, that’s why.
Since 2008, Dr. Harold Connolly Jr. has been part of the first NASA mission to collect an asteroid sample and return it to Earth for analysis. The approximately $1 billion OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer) mission launched in September 2016 from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to reach Bennu, one of more than 500,000 asteroids in the solar system and one of 1,752 known Earth-crossing potentially hazardous asteroids.
The nine-year mission will enable researchers to gain a better understanding of the early solar system; shed light on planetary history and the origin of life; determine how water came to be on Earth; and better predict the movement of asteroids, which can plummet to Earth.
Connolly, founding chair and professor of the new Department of Geology at Rowan University, is the mission sample scientist. He will help determine the location of the sampling site on the football field-sized asteroid, seeking the spot that offers the greatest scientific value, the place to collect about 4 ¼ pounds of carbon-rich matter. When the mission returns to Earth in the Utah desert in 2021, he’ll lead the international team that will analyze the sample.
As the Rowan geologist pores through the sample, through material the size of pebbles and grains of sand, he hopes to help revolutionize scientists’ understanding of the early solar system, shed light on planetary history and the origins of life and learn more about the hazards of asteroids and near-Earth space.
Dr. Joe Cardona, email@example.com, 856-256-4236.