NASA has a new mission coming up and it wants you to get involved. The space agency needs your help to determine where to gather rock samples from on an asteroid.
NASA's OSIRIS-REx is currently orbiting asteroid 101955 Bennu, a carbon-rich rock hosting traces of the early solar system. In 2023 the spacecraft is set to return to Earth carrying with it a piece of Bennu. However, the team in charge of the craft don't yet know the best location to gather rock samples.
Once it has produced an extremely high-resolution map of Bennu's surface there will only be a six-week period for sample extraction.
“It is a massive task to actually map every single boulder on the surface, and we just didn't know a better way to do it in the amount of time,” Carina Bennett, an imaging processing engineer for the mission based at the University of Arizona, told Space.com. “We basically really, truly need the help.”
Bennet and her colleagues have reached out to CosmoQuest, a platform for crowdsourcing space science, for the extra help they need. Participants will be asked to tag the edges of boulders in detailed images of Bennu's surface. This will help in the production of maps of hazards which the spacecraft will need to avoid when it touches down.
Without this information, the sampling location cannot be decided.
“I think the most interesting part is that you're actually contributing to a decision,” added Bennett. “You can actually go and watch when we sample and potentially see some of the same areas and images that you might have actually counted.”
This crowdsourcing project is due to start in late April or early May.