Bennu is currently orbiting the sun at 81 million kilometers from planet earth and is almost the size of the Empire State Building.
NASA’s first and largest asteroid sample finally landed on earth on Sunday following the seven-year, $1 billion mission, the American agency announced.
The 4.5 billion-year-old sample was kept in a capsule and delivered via the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that touched down at the Department of Defence’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City.
“Congratulations to the OSIRIS-REx team on a picture-perfect mission – the first American asteroid sample return in history – which will deepen our understanding of the origin of our solar system and its formation,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said.
The 250 gram sample is made up of pebbles and dust, believed to be older than earth. It was collected by NASA from asteroid Bennu, which was discovered in 1999. Nelson noted that “Bennu is a potentially hazardous asteroid.”
Following its arrival, the capsule was transported by a helicopter to a temporary room in order to preserve it with the help of nitrogen, before sending it to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday.
The agency is also distributing pieces from Bennu to scientists globally, though NASA fell short of mentioning the potential recipients.
“Successfully delivering samples from Bennu to Earth is a triumph of collaborative ingenuity and a testament to what we can accomplish when we unite with a common purpose. But let’s not forget – while this may feel like the end of an incredible chapter, it’s truly just the beginning of another,” Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said.
Lauretta added that the delivery of the samples offers an “unprecedented opportunity” to “delve deeper into the secrets of our solar system.”
Aside from the United States, Japan is the only other country that brought back such samples from asteroids, though the latest pieces are the biggest to land on earth, per a report by the Associated Press (AP).
Bennu is currently orbiting the sun at 81 million kilometers from planet earth and is almost the size of the Empire State Building. The asteroid is expected to edge closer to earth by 2182, just enough to hit the planet, the AP added.