NASA’s first asteroid samples land on Earth

Context: The OSIRIS-REX mission has ended with the return of regolith (space sample) from the primordial asteroid Bennu.

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OSIRIS-REx Mission:

  • Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resources Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS REx) is an asteroid study and sample return mission by NASA. 
  • The spacecraft set out in 2016 to study asteroid Bennu (a carbon-rich near-Earth asteroid) and return to Earth with a sample for detailed analysis in 2023.

Asteroid Bennu:

  • Bennu is a small asteroid, a little less than 500 metres in depth and is more than 4.5 billion years old.
  • It is classified as a “near-Earth object” because it passes relatively close to our planet every six years.
  • Over time, the asteroid has drifted closer to Earth, closely approaching it every six years, owing to which it has a small chance of impacting the Earth in future (2182 CE). 

Why was Bennu chosen?

  • Bennu fits in three criteria: accessibility, size and composition.
  • For a mission like OSIRIS-REx, the most accessible asteroids are somewhere between 0.08 – 1.6 AU. Scientists needed an asteroid that could be easily travelled to, retrieve a sample from and return to Earth all within a few years. Further, Bennu had an orbit similar to Earth.
  • One theory is that small worlds like Bennu seeded Earth with the prebiotic ingredients for life


  • Researchers believe that this pristine space dirt will reveal clues about the birth of our solar system (4.5 billion years ago) and the genesis of life on Earth.

Key Fact:

  • One AU (Astronomical Unit) is approximately equal to 93 million miles – the distance between the Sun and the Earth. The closest asteroids which travel within 1.3 AU of the sun are called near-Earth objects
Source: The Hindu

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