After seven years of long waiting, the first asteroid sample from the American space agency NASA has landed on Earth. On Wednesday, NASA scientists finally opened a space probe carrying the largest asteroid samples ever brought to Earth and found black debris.
Osiris-Rex launched in 2016, landing on the asteroid Bennu and collecting about nine ounces (250 grams) of dust from its rocky surface.
READ ALSO: Cosmic curiosity: a little bit of Bennu
According to NASA, the asteroid’s remains should “help us better understand the types of asteroids that could threaten Earth.”
It ended its 6.21 billion kilometer (3.86 billion mile) journey after landing in the desert in the western state of Utah on Sunday.
Osiris-Rex launched its capsule early Sunday morning from an altitude of more than 67,000 miles.
Also read: NASA spacecraft carrying the largest samples of the asteroid Bennu lands on Earth
The fiery passage through the atmosphere occurred only in the last 13 minutes, when the capsule hurtled downward at a speed of more than 27,000 miles per hour, with temperatures up to 5,000 Fahrenheit (2,760 Celsius).
Its rapid descent was supposed to be slowed by two successive parachutes as it moved toward the 37-mile by nine-mile landing zone.
The main parachute, however, deployed “much higher than originally planned,” at about 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) instead of 5,000 feet, NASA said.
A press conference is planned for October 11 in which the bulk of the exhibition will be announced to the public.
Scientists believe that analysis of the asteroid will help researchers better understand the formation of the solar system and how Earth became habitable.
Most of the sample will be preserved for the study of future generations. About a quarter will be used immediately in experiments and a small amount will be sent to mission partners Japan and Canada.
– The story of the origin of the Earth –
Asteroids are composed of the original materials of the solar system, dating back about 4.5 billion years, and have remained relatively intact.
“They can give us clues about how the solar system formed and evolved,” said Melissa Morris, Osiris-Rex program executive.
About asteroid Bennu
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 encased in minerals.
Bennu surprised scientists in 2020 when the probe, during its brief contact with the asteroid’s surface, sank into the ground, revealing an unexpectedly low density, like a kiddie pool filled with plastic balls.
Understanding its composition could prove useful in the distant future.
Because there is a small but non-zero chance (one in 2,700) that Bennu could catastrophically collide with Earth, although not until 2182.
But last year NASA successfully diverted the course of an asteroid by crashing a probe into it in a test, and at some point it may need to repeat that exercise, but with much more at stake.
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Updated: October 4, 2023, 11:26 am IST