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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
Dec 1, 2020 - Science

Biden's military space future

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

President-elect Joe Biden should anticipate major and minor conflicts in space from even the earliest days of his presidency.

The big picture: President Donald Trump's military and civil space policies are well-documented, but Biden's record and views on space are less clear.

3 hours ago - Science

The "war on nature"

A resident stands on his roof as the Blue Ridge Fire burned back in October in Chino Hills, Calif. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

Apocalyptic weather is the new normal because humans are "waging war on nature," the UN declared on Wednesday.

What they're saying: "The state of the planet is broken," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, reports AP. “This is suicidal.”

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Nursing homes are still getting pummeledU.S. could hit herd immunity by end of summer 2021 if Americans embrace virus vaccines, Fauci says.
  2. Politics: Pelosi, Schumer call on McConnell to adopt bipartisan $900B stimulus framework.
  3. World: U.K. clears Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for mass rollout — Putin says Russia will begin large-scale vaccination next week.
  4. Business: Investors are finally starting to take their money out of safe-haven Treasuries.
  5. Sports: The end of COVID’s grip on sports may be in sight.