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A global map of Bennu. Photo: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft briefly touched the surface of an asteroid Tuesday in a bid to collect a sample from the space rock that will one day be returned to Earth.

Why it matters: Scientist are hoping to study a sample from the asteroid, named Bennu, to piece together more about the solar system's evolution. Asteroids are thought to be leftovers from the formation of planets billions of years ago.

The state of play: OSIRIS-REx — which arrived at Bennu in 2018 — was able to use its sampling arm to touch the surface of the asteroid.

  • The spacecraft needed to avoid large boulders and rocks on the way down to tag Bennu, further complicating the delicate work.
  • Yes, but: NASA doesn't yet know how much of a sample the spacecraft was able to collect. Mission managers will now need to perform a test to see how much extra weight is onboard the probe.

The big picture: Space agencies have returned samples of asteroids to Earth before, but if this maneuver is successful, it will be the most material ever fetched from an asteroid and brought back to our planet.

  • Being able to analyze these rocks and dirt on Earth is key because tools in labs on the planet are far better than those on spacecraft.

What's next: The sample is expected to arrive back on Earth in 2023.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

Understanding the rhythm and music of 5 alien planets

Artist's illustration of the planets orbiting TOI-178. Image: ESO/L. Calçada/spaceengine.org

Five planets orbiting a star 200 light-years from Earth are locked in a strange dance that could help scientists learn more about how far-off worlds form.

The big picture: In recent years, researchers have found that nearly every star has at least one planet orbiting it. Now, astronomers are starting to learn more about those worlds, helping them piece together why the universe looks the way it does.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 min ago - World

Americans increasingly see China as an enemy

One in three Americans, and a majority of Republicans, now view China as an enemy of the United States, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

By the numbers: Just 9% of Americans consider China a "partner," while 55% see Beijing as a "competitor" and 34% as an "enemy."

Scoop: Leaked HHS docs spotlight Biden's child migrant dilemma

A group of undocumented immigrants walk toward a Customs and Border Patrol station after being apprehended. Photo: Sergio Flores/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Fresh internal documents from the Department of Health and Human Services show how quickly the number of child migrants crossing the border is overwhelming the administration's stretched resources.

Driving the news: In the week ending March 1, the Border Patrol referred to HHS custody an average of 321 children per day, according to documents obtained by Axios. That's up from a weekly average of 203 in late January and early February — and just 47 per day during the first week of January.