Nasa spacecraft arrives at asteroid Bennu to discover how life began on Earth

Andrew Griffin
Monday 03 December 2018 18:10 GMT
Nasa spacecraft arrives at asteroid Bennu

A Nasa spacecraft has arrived at an asteroid the space agency hopes could tell us how life began.

Osiris-Rex will investigate the asteroid, known as Bennu, in an attempt to find where the materials that would one day create humans came from.

The arrival was the end of a more than two year journey over about 80 million miles. Nasa engineers cheered and high-fived – using a special kind of high-five reminiscent of the arm that will one day collect a sample from Bennu – when the spacecraft sent back the message that it had arrived.

Bennu is an ancient asteroid, thought to have formed in the very earliest days of the solar system. As such, the rock has been flying around the solar system for more than 4.5 billion years.

But its composition was already established within 10 million years of the formation of the solar system. That means that it can function as something like a time capsule, allowing us to have a look into the distant past of our planets.

It was chosen out of hundreds of potential asteroids for Nasa to hunt down and land on, as they looked to find a world that could tell us the most about what it is like.

It is so old that it may contain ancient organic molecules of the kind that might have helped kick start life on Earth.

Osiris-Rex will investigate that rock – about the size of a big car – before landing on it. After it does, it will scoop up a sample of the world, spending about a year there – and hopefully bring it all the way back down to Earth in 2023.

The spacecraft arrives soon after a Japanese mission dropped a series of small robots onto another asteroid.

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