A Chunk of Asteroid Bennu Makes Safe Landing on Earth
In an exciting development, a fragment of the huge asteroid Bennu has successfully landed on Earth. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which has been collecting samples from Bennu’s surface since 2020, released a sample capsule that landed in the Utah desert via parachute. The capsule and its pristine samples will be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for analysis using special tools designed to examine material smaller than a grain of sand.
The mission’s objective is to gain insight into the role of asteroids in the formation of the early solar system. Bennu, estimated to be 4.5 billion years old, serves as a time capsule filled with cosmic secrets. The analysis of the asteroid will take approximately two years, providing valuable information about the formation of Earth and life itself.
Approximately a quarter of the sample will be distributed to over 200 scientists from 38 institutions globally, including the University of Manchester and the Natural History Museum. The capsule is estimated to contain at least a cup of rubble, but the exact amount will only be known once it is opened. Some material may have spilled and floated away during collection three years ago when 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 pebbles and dust collected from Bennu represent the largest haul from beyond the moon, providing preserved building blocks from the early solar system.
Scientists believe that Bennu could potentially collide with Earth in the future. The asteroid has had three close encounters with our planet in 1999, 2005, and 2011. There is a 1 in 2,700 chance that Bennu could hit Earth when it potentially drifts into our orbit by September 2182.
The successful landing of the asteroid fragment marks a significant milestone in NASA’s mission to explore and understand the universe. The analysis of the samples will contribute to our knowledge of the solar system’s origins and potentially provide valuable insights into the formation of Earth and life as we know it.