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Hovering on a parachute, the dropped capsule with soil samples from the asteroid Bennu reaches Earth. After more than six years and billions of kilometers through space, NASA's Osiris-Rex probe will complete its mission on Sunday.
Not only the trouble-free landing in the desert of the US state of Utah triggers enthusiasm, but above all the contents of the capsule.
Lori Glaze, NASA scientist:
"It's the first asteroid sample that NASA is celebrating. It's unbelievable."
The soil sample is the largest ever taken from the surface of an asteroid and the first mission of its kind for the U.S. space agency. According to NASA estimates, the capsule, which weighs around twelve kilograms, contains around 250 grams of rock. But why is the debris of an asteroid so interesting for scientists all over the world?
Dante Lauretta, Chief Scientist at the University of Arizona:
"The main goal for me is to understand whether carbon-rich asteroids like Bennu provide the compounds that may have led to the origin of life on our planet."
The Osiris Rex mission was launched in 2016 to the asteroid Bennu. In 2020, the probe managed to collect the sample from the surface of the celestial body classified as a near-Earth object. Like other asteroids, Bennu, with its 500 meters in diameter, is a relic from the early days of the solar system.
Amy Simon, NASA scientist:
"Bennu was full of surprises. A lot of things surprised us, but the first was probably that when we arrived we quickly saw that the surface was covered with large boulders and we expected to see depressions or craters full of loose sand and dust. That would have made it easy for us to take samples. But it wasn't like that. So we had to think very carefully about how we were going to take the sample to get between these boulders and pick up the sample very carefully."
The rock sample was taken by helicopter to a sterile laboratory near the landing site and subjected to nitrogen purification. This is to prevent contamination. Over the next few days, around 200 scientists will examine the rock using 60 different methods of investigation. Meanwhile, the Osiris Rex probe, which is about six meters long, is already on its way to the next asteroid, which it is expected to reach in 2029.