A Chunk of an Asteroid Named Bennu Lands on Earth, NASA Collects Pristine Samples for Analysis
In a significant scientific achievement, a fragment of a huge asteroid, named Bennu, which passes Earth every six years, has landed on Earth. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been gathering rocks and dust from Bennu’s surface since 2020, after being launched in 2016 as part of NASA’s first mission to collect samples from an asteroid. The spacecraft released a sample capsule from 63,000 miles away during a flyby of Earth, and the small capsule landed in the Utah desert via a parachute four hours later.
The landing of the capsule was met with applause from NASA staff, who stood at their desks to celebrate the safe arrival of the fragment. The capsule, along with its samples, will now be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for analysis. Special tools have been developed for the analysis, including those capable of examining material smaller than a grain of sand. Teams will fly in via helicopter to pick up the samples from the landing point, which is located 70 miles west of Salt Lake City.
The primary objective of the mission is to gain insight into the role of asteroids in the formation of the early solar system. Bennu is predicted to be 4.5 billion years old, essentially serving as a time capsule full of cosmic secrets. The analysis of the asteroid is expected to take two years to complete, providing scientists with valuable information about the formation of Earth and life itself.
Furthermore, a quarter of the sample will be distributed to a group of more than 200 people from 38 globally distributed institutions, including scientists from the University of Manchester and the Natural History Museum. This collaboration aims to enhance our understanding of the asteroid and its significance.
Scientists estimate that the sample capsule holds at least a cup of rubble, but the exact amount will only be determined once the container is opened. During the collection process three years ago, some of the samples spilled and floated away when the spacecraft scooped up too much material and rocks jammed the container’s lid.
Japan is the only other country to have successfully brought back asteroid samples, gathering about a teaspoon in a pair of asteroid missions. The samples collected from Bennu represent the largest haul from beyond the moon, preserving building blocks from the dawn of our solar system.
While the analysis of Bennu’s samples will take two years, it leaves more than 150 years before a potential collision with Earth. Scientists believe that there is a 1 in 2,700 chance that Bennu could hit the planet in September 2182, as it has had three close encounters in 1999, 2005, and 2011. The study of Bennu will provide valuable insights into the potential impact of asteroids on Earth.
This achievement marks a significant milestone in space exploration and will contribute to our understanding of the universe and our place within it.