Bennu asteroid sample makes it to Earth

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The final step of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which launched in September 2016, has reached a milestone. A small capsule containing a sample of the asteroid Bennu descended through the Earth’s atmosphere. It landed in the Utah desert for NASA to collect and analyze.

A similar method was used to collect particles from a comet with the Stardust mission that dropped off a sample in Utah in 2006.

The audacious mission flew the spacecraft to a small, near-Earth asteroid named Bennu. It attempted something that hadn’t been done before. It orbited the asteroid, getting close enough to scrape some material and collect it, then returned to Earth with the sample.

Dante Lauretta, the Principal Investigator who led the mission, and professor at the University of Arizona, joined Arizona Horizon to tell us more.

OSIRIS-REx, which is NASA’s asteroid sample return mission has been a phenomenal success,” Lauretta said. “We’re thrilled to be in the final stage, which is all about the science. We’ve got samples, here, on-site here, and at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where I’ve been for the past month, looking at the material we brought home and getting ready to deliver some of that to the University of Arizona and begin the analytical tasks.”

Lauretta explains that we are not just looking at rocks that came from an asteroid. Instead, we are looking at material that was formed over 4.5 billion years ago, before the Earth even existed. Bennu was targeted for this mission because researchers hoped that it contained water in the form of clay minerals and carbon in the form of organic compounds. It was the delivery of these kinds of stones to the early Earth that led to our oceans, the air in our atmosphere and all of the molecules that make up life on Earth.

“We’re really going back to our origins and understanding where we came from,” Lauretta said.

Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator

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