Recently, a capsule carrying samples of a distant asteroid, collected by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft landed safely in the desert in Utah (US). These samples are the largest amount of asteroid material ever returned to Earth and were taken from a mountain-sized asteroid named Bennu. Scientists believe that this sample could help them answer the age-old question: where do we come from?
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OSIRIS-REx was launched in 2016, and spent two years travelling through space to reach Bennu. The goal of the mission was to collect samples from the asteroid.
Bennu is over 320 million km away from the Earth. When the spacecraft reached the asteroid, It began to orbit it. Finally, in 2020, the spacecraft touched the surface of the asteroid for the several seconds, using a special arm to blow air and suck up dust and pebbles. Since then, the OSIRIS-REx has been heading back towards the Earth. The Capsule has been taken to NASA’s Johnson Space Center In Houston, Texas, where a very special lab has been set up to handle the asteroid sample.
System, and how life might have begun on the Earth. Scientists will look for chemicals that are important to life, such as amino acids – the building blocks of proteins.
What is asteroid Bennu?
Asteroid Bennu is a very big mass of rock weighing around 78 billion kg, in space. According to NASA, the asteroid probably broke off a much bigger one around 2 billion years ago. Because Bennu looks so similar to asteroids found on Earth scientists think it could contain some of the universe’s oldest ma-terials. This is why NASA is so keen to investigate it – it could help scientists find out more about where we come from.