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NASA spacecraft arrives at near-Earth asteroid Bennu

Views of the asteroid Bennu from the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx
Views of the asteroid Bennu from the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx, as the craft approached the asteroid. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully arrived at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu on Monday. It will now spend the next year orbiting the asteroid, searching for the best places to land and scoop up samples before eventually returning them to Earth for analysis in 2023, NASA said.

Why it matters: Asteroids are time capsules of the early solar system, thought to contain information about the origins of planets and the natural resources that enabled life to develop. Analyzing Bennu may help scientists learn more about the asteroid's composition, which could lead to new discoveries about how life evolved in the universe.

  • Bennu is rich in carbon, which means it may contain organic molecules and amino acids that could be similar to the building blocks of life on Earth.

What's next: In addition to looking back in time, NASA and private commercial space companies are developing plans to mine asteroids in the future for valuable minerals, for example, and this mission could provide the necessary justification for such plans.

  • The spacecraft itself — made by Lockheed Martin and operated in partnership with NASA — is an example of the already sizable role the private sector plays in the space industry.

Go deeper: The interstellar object Oumuamua is almost certainly not an alien spaceship

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