On September 24, 2023, the NASA spacecraft OSIRIS-REx returned to Earth with a sample of asteroid Bennu, the first time a spacecraft has successfully brought back a sample from another world. The spacecraft landed in the Utah desert, where scientists will collect and analyze the sample.
OSIRIS-REx was launched in 2016 and arrived at Bennu in 2018. The spacecraft spent two years studying the asteroid, including mapping its surface and collecting data on its composition. In 2020, OSIRIS-REx extended a robotic arm and touched Bennu’s surface, collecting a sample of the asteroid’s dust and rocks.
The sample is contained in a capsule that was attached to OSIRIS-REx. The spacecraft separated from the capsule before landing on Earth, and the capsule fell through the atmosphere and landed in the Utah desert.
Scientists are eager to study the Bennu sample. It is the most pristine sample of asteroid material ever collected, and it could provide new insights into the formation and evolution of asteroids and planets.
The sample will be analyzed at a special facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Scientists will use a variety of techniques to study the sample, including microscopy, spectroscopy, and chemistry.
Scientists hope to learn more about Bennu’s composition, age, and history from the sample. They also hope to learn more about the organic molecules that are present in the sample. Organic molecules are the building blocks of life, so their presence on Bennu could provide clues about the origins of life on Earth.
The return of the Bennu sample is a major milestone in space exploration. It is the first time that a spacecraft has successfully brought back a sample from another world, and it could revolutionize our understanding of asteroids and planets.
What scientists hope to learn from the Bennu sample
Scientists hope to learn a great deal from the Bennu sample, including:
- The composition of the asteroid, including its minerals, metals, and organic molecules
- The age and history of the asteroid
- How the asteroid formed and evolved
- Whether the asteroid contains any resources that could be useful for humans in the future
Scientists also hope to learn more about the origins of life on Earth. Bennu is thought to be a primitive asteroid, meaning that it has not changed much since it formed billions of years ago. This means that the sample could contain clues about the conditions that existed on early Earth and how life may have arisen.
The return of the Bennu sample is a major scientific achievement, and it is sure to lead to new and exciting discoveries.
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