NASA’s first asteroid sample has landed that may give clues about Earth's enemies in outer space
Osiris-Rex launched in 2016, landing on the asteroid Bennu and collected roughly nine ounces (250 grams) of dust from its rocky surface
After seven years of long wait, the US space agency NASA's first asteroid sample has landed on Earth. On Wednesday, Nasa scientists finally pried open a space probe carrying the largest asteroid samples ever brought back to Earth, finding black debris.
Osiris-Rex launched in 2016, landing on the asteroid Bennu and collected roughly nine ounces (250 grams) of dust from its rocky surface.
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According to NASA, the debris of the asteroid should "help us better understand the types of asteroids that could threaten Earth."
It ended its 3.86-billion-mile (6.21-billion-kilometer) journey after touching down in the desert in the western state of Utah on Sunday.
Osiris-Rex released its capsule early Sunday from an altitude of more than 67,000 miles.
The fiery passage through the atmosphere came only in the last 13 minutes, as the capsule hurtled downward at a speed of more than 27,000 miles per hour, with temperatures of up to 5,000 Fahrenheit (2,760 Celsius).
Its rapid descent was supposed to be slowed by two successive parachutes as it made its way to the 37-mile by nine-mile landing zone.
The main chute, however, deployed "much higher than was originally anticipated," at about 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) rather than 5,000 feet, NASA said.
A news conference is scheduled for October 11 in which the bulk of the sample will be revealed to the public.
The analysis of the asteroid, scientists believe, will help researchers better understand the formation of the solar system and how Earth became habitable.
Most of the sample will be conserved for study by future generations. Roughly one-fourth will be immediately used in experiments, and a small amount will be sent to mission partners Japan and Canada.
- Earth's origin story -
Asteroids are composed of the original materials of the solar system, dating back some 4.5 billion years, and have remained relatively intact.
They "can give us clues about how the solar system formed and evolved," said Osiris-Rex program executive Melissa Morris.
About Bennu asteroid
Scientists believe Bennu, about 500 meters (1,640 feet) in diameter, is rich in carbon -- a building block of life on Earth -- and contains water molecules locked in minerals.
Bennu surprised scientists in 2020 when the probe, during its brief contact with the asteroid's surface, sank into the soil, revealing an unexpectedly low density, like a children's pool filled with plastic balls.
Understanding its composition could come in handy in the -- distant -- future.
For there is a slight, but non-zero, chance (one in 2,700) that Bennu could collide catastrophically with Earth, though not until 2182.
But NASA last year successfully deviated the course of an asteroid by crashing a probe into it in a test, and it might at some point need to repeat that exercise -- but with much higher stakes.
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