NASA probe carrying asteroid sample that could explain how Earth began lands in Utah desert
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The NASA probe carrying an asteroid sample that could explain how Earth began has finally landed in the Utah desert.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer) capsule was fired off into space back in 2016 to collect material from an asteroid called Bennu around the same size as the Empire State building.
Since then, some seven years later, the capsule has finally returned to Earth today (24 September) just after 8.52am local time.
There were reportedly cheers at the military base as the news came that the capsule had touched down in the Utah desert at long last.
The capsule in question has collected almost nine ounces of rocks, dust and space-dirt from the asteroid and landed in the Utah desert the Defense Department's Test and Training Range where it will be met by teams from both the US space agency and Lockheed Martin, the company that built the vehicle.
The mission will help experts gain potentially important insights into how life on Earth began.
Professor Dante Lauretta told the BBC: "We're trying to piece together our beginnings. How did the Earth form and why is it a habitable world? Where did the oceans get their water; where did the air in our atmosphere come from; and most importantly, what is the source of the organic molecules that make up all life on Earth?"
The material could also provide NASA with more information about asteroids that could come into contact with our planet.
Which could be pretty vital information because scientists have determined there's a 1-in-2,700 chance that Bennu will impact Earth between the years of 2175 and 2199, so while it's fairly good odds, it's probably still something to be aware of.
Explaining what scientists hoped to gain from the samples, OSIRIS-REx’s deputy project manager Doctor Michael Moreau said: "Just from a general perspective, any time that we can explore a new world and see what it looks like and see what surprises it has in store for us, that’s an amazing moment of discovery.
"It's like hiking to the top of a ridge and that moment of seeing the landscape on the other side for the first time. There’s an excitement about exploration that is very much part of space exploration."
Moreau added: "Why we chose Bennu in particular, it’s a specific kind of asteroid that we believe is made up of material dating to the very formation of our solar system.
"The material that will be returned is unique relative to anything in the existing meteorite collection, and scientists all over the world are preparing to study the material and are excited to see what surprises it will have in store."