OSIRIS-REx collects sample from Bennu asteroid after 2-year orbit

OSIRIS-REx collects sample from asteroid

After a two-year orbit of a near-Earth asteroid, a spacecraft has landed on Bennu and collected a sample from the rock’s surface.

But it will still be two years until that sample is returned to terra firma.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx deployed a robotic arm during its short time on Bennu after landing at the site called Nightingale. The landing site is the size of a couple of parking spaces.

OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer, The New York Times reported.

Bennu itself is more than 200 million miles from Earth, the size of the Empire State Building and is covered with boulders the size of buildings.

The sample, which could be between 2 ounces and 2 kilograms, was collected before OSIRIS-REx took off again to eventually return to Earth in 2023.

The mission leaders, though, still have some more work to do.

“Even though we have some work ahead of us to determine the outcome of the event -- the successful contact, the TAGSAM gas firing, and back-away from Bennu are major accomplishments for the team. I look forward to analyzing the data to determine the mass of sample collected,” Dante Lauretta said in a statement, according to CNN. Lauretta is the principal investigator for the mission and is a professor at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

The sample could tell scientists how planets formed and life began, CNN reported. It is made up of carbon-rich materials that have some scientists believing that asteroids like Bennu may have planted the seeds of life on Earth, the Times reported.

The spacecraft launched in September 2016, and it finally reached Bennu in December 2018, the Times reported. Over the past two years, the spacecraft has been observing Bennu and how it behaved.

To track OSIRIS-REx, click here.