This artist's rendering made available by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft contacting the asteroid Bennu with the Touch-And-Go Sample Arm Mechanism.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/AP
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In 2016, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft traveled to an asteroid called Bennu, collected 250 grams of rocks and dust, and then traveled 1.2 billion miles to return the samples to Earth. In September, it finally dropped its cache, via parachute, into the Utah desert. The recovered samples might give scientists clues as to how planets formed, and even provide evidence of water or signs of extraterrestrial life. Scientists are just beginning to analyze the trove, which is greater than they expected. “The very best ‘problem’ to have is that there is so much material,” says Christopher Snead, the project’s curation lead.

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