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A boulder on Bennu. Photo: UofA/JHU-APL/York University

The asteroid Bennu has been orbiting the Sun not far from Earth, for about 1.75 million years, according to a recent study.

The big picture: By combining the new findings with data from a sample of the asteroid, researchers hope to learn more about the chaotic early days of our solar system and to figure out how Earth eventually gave rise to life.

What they found: The scientists behind a study in the journal Nature used images from NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission to Bennu to count craters on the asteroid's surface in order to estimate how long it has been in the inner solar system.

  • Older objects have had more time for craters to accumulate and counting the features on planetary surfaces is a longstanding technique.
  • "The amazing data collected by OSIRIS-REx at asteroid Bennu have allowed us to not just find impact craters across its surface, but to actually find and study the craters on the surfaces of boulders," Kevin Walsh said in a statement.

What's next: OSIRIS-REx nabbed a sample of the space rock that will be returned to Earth in 2023 and will offer more clues about Bennu's — and Earth's — past.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 5, 2021 - Science

White House lays out new planetary protection guidelines against human contamination

Mars as seen by the Curiosity rover. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The White House laid out a plan last week for updating long-held rules around how to protect the Moon, Mars and other bodies from human contamination.

Why it matters: If a space agency or private company is looking for life on Mars or another deep space object, it's key to be sure any microbes detected are actually native and didn't hitch a ride from Earth.

Mike Allen, author of AM
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

Cyber CEO: Next war will hit regular Americans online

Any future real-world conflict between the United States and an adversary like China or Russia will have direct impacts on regular Americans because of the risk of cyber attack, Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, tells "Axios on HBO."

What they're saying: "The next conflict where the gloves come off in cyber, the American citizen will be dragged into it, whether they want to be or not. Period."