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A sample of the asteroid Bennu arrives on Earth

A sample of the asteroid Bennu arrives on Earth

History day! The OSIRIS-REx mission on Sunday (24) delivered to Earth a sample of the asteroid Bennu collected by the probe. This is the first time that NASA has been able to bring a sample of space rocks to our planet.

The spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida in September 2016 aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, beginning a two-year journey to the 525-meter-wide asteroid Bennu. After arriving at its destination in August 2018, it spent another two years observing the surface of the space rock.

When this survey was completed, OSIRIS-REx got close enough to the asteroid to collect material. In 2021, with Bennu’s fragments stored in its sample return capsule, the probe activated its propulsion system and began the 1.9 billion km journey back to Earth.

On Saturday (23), after a mission that took seven years and covered a total of 6.2 billion kilometers (round trip, survey, and return), the spacecraft launched the capsule into the planet’s orbit, at an altitude of 101 kilometers, and continued its journey. Towards another asteroid. This moment was captured by many observatories around the world, including in Brazil – such as the SONEAR Observatory, located in Serra da Piedade/MG, owned by amateur astronomer Cristóvão Jacques (click here To view the recording).

Below, an animation of this moment shared by NASA on X (formerly Twitter).

With the help of parachutes, the package landed at 11:52 am (Brasilia time), in the western United States of America, in the desert area surrounding the military testing and training range in Utah, and the whole operation was completed. live feed Online, on NASA digital platforms. “And the team can breathe a sigh of relief,” said one commentator. He lives. He also confirmed several times that the exact quantity will be announced within a few days (more specifically on Tuesday the 26th) – with an estimate of around 250 grams.

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The OSIRIS-REx capsule reached speeds of up to 43,450 kilometers per hour, and its heat shield was exposed to temperatures of up to 2,900 degrees Celsius as it crossed Earth’s atmosphere – taking about 13 minutes to reach Earth.

A little more than half an hour later, two NASA employees approached the capsule to inspect it. They were then connected to a helicopter via a long rope and transported to a temporary clean room set up at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground.

NASA employees inspect a capsule containing a sample of asteroid Bennu collected by the OSIRIS-REx mission. Credit: NASA TV

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Asteroids like Bennu formed about 4.5 billion years ago, at the same time as the solar system’s planets. Marcelo Zurita, president of the Paraibana Astronomical Association (APA), member of the Brazilian Astronomical Society (SAB), technical director of the Brazilian Meteor Observing Network (BRAMON) and columnist for… Digital look. “This means that studying material from asteroids like this could help reveal the state and composition of matter around the ‘young’ Sun, and even help explain the origins of life here on Earth.”

According to NASAFor two years from the end of 2023 to 2025, the sample will be cataloged and analysed. At least 75% of the content will be retained at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston for future research.

JSC staff will oversee the distribution of the rest to more than 200 researchers around the world, who will investigate it for a variety of purposes.

For example, one line of study will focus on organic compounds, such as carbon. Scientists believe that asteroids rich in this element, such as Bennu, may have helped life establish itself on Earth by delivering organic materials through collisions.

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Now renamed OSIRIS-APEx, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is on its way to the near-Earth asteroid Apophis and settle into orbit around the 370-meter-wide space rock by 2029.