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NASA shared its long-awaited analysis of samples collected from a 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid in Earth’s orbit, which could impact our planet in 150 years.

The space agency sent a probe to the 1,250-foot rock Bennu in 2020 as part of a landmark mission to bring the first asteroid samples back to Earth.

Results today showed that the space rock – which has a chance of smashing into Earth in 2182 – contains water and carbon that are building blocks for life. 

NASA said the discoveries could provide clues to how life formed on Earth and serve as a time capsule from the early days of our solar system.

The first image of rock and dust from Bennu was shown during a live stream at 11 am ET, which scientists said contains abundant water in the form of hydrated clay minerals that contain carbon

Another image showed an image of the return capsule, with samples of the asteroid collected to one side

”At nearly five percent carbon by weight, carbon being the central element of life, far exceeding our goal of 60g, this is the biggest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever returned to earth,’ Nelson said during the livestream that began at 11 am ET. 

‘They are going to help us determine the origin of elements that could have led to life.’ 

Daniel Glavin, OSIRIS-REx sample analysis lead, echoed Nelson’s statements regarding the discovery of carbon and noted he spent countless hours investigating whether asteroids like Bennu brought pre-biotic chemicals to Earth that triggered life.

‘We picked the right asteroid, and not only that we brought back the right sample, said Glavin. 

Images shared of the samples show different elements like iron, sulfide and water-bearing clays tucked in the rock and dust

The OSIRIS-REx mission collected rock and dust from the asteroid in 2020, and a capsule containing the precious cargo returned to Earth a little over two weeks ago, landing in the Utah desert

‘This stuff is an astrobiologists dream, I just can’t wait to get at it.’ 

The OSIRIS-REx mission collected rock and dust from the asteroid in 2020, and a capsule containing the precious cargo returned to Earth a little over two weeks ago, landing in the Utah desert. 

The mission brought back about eight ounces of debris, which NASA believes holds building blocks from the dawn of our solar system and could provide clues to understanding how life formed on Earth.

NASA chose to sample Bennu because it is believed to be rich in organic compounds.

Scientists think similar asteroids could have delivered organic building blocks to Earth and water through collisions billions of years ago.

Bennu’s orbit, which intersects that of our planet, also made the roundtrip journey easier than going to the Asteroid Belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter.

NASA researchers have so far been heartened by the discovery of ‘bonus particles,’ described as black dust and debris coating the sample collector.

Osiris-Rex, the mothership, rocketed away on the $1 billion mission in 2016.

It reached Bennu two years later and grabbed rubble from the small, roundish space rock in 2020 using a long stick vacuum.

Currently orbiting the sun 50 million miles (81 million kilometers) from Earth, Bennu is about one-third of a mile (one-half of a kilometer) across, roughly the size of the Empire State Building

Scientists have been analyzing the samples at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston since retrieving them last month

 OSIRIS REx collected the samples that are set to be seen by the world for the first time

When it returned, the spacecraft had logged four billion miles.

The capsule hit the atmosphere at 27,650 miles per hour (mph) after being released by the spacecraft at 6:42 am ET.

Currently orbiting the sun 50 million miles from Earth, Bennu is about one-third of a mile  across, roughly the size of the Empire State Building. 

The asteroid is also shaped like a spinning top and is believed to be the broken fragment of a much larger space rock. 

Bennu is regarded as the most dangerous rock in the Solar System because its intersecting orbit with Earth gives it the highest chance of hitting the planet of any known space object. 

NASA has long been studying the asteroid and revealed in 2021 that it has a  1-in-1,750 chance of smashing into our planet on the afternoon of September 24, 2182.

Even if the asteroid were to collide with our planet, it is nowhere near the size of the dino-killing, six-mile across space rock that hit the Yucatan peninsula 66 million years ago, as Bennu is less than a third of a mile wide.

Nonetheless, if Bennu were to impact Earth, it would be similar to an explosion of more than 1.1 billion tons of TNT.

Kelly Fast, program manager for the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in 2021: ‘NASA’s Planetary Defense mission is to find and monitor asteroids and comets that can come near Earth and may pose a hazard to our planet.

‘We carry out this endeavor through continuing astronomical surveys that collect data to discover previously unknown objects and refine our orbital models for them.

‘The OSIRIS-REx mission has provided an extraordinary opportunity to refine and test these models, helping us better predict where Bennu will be when it makes its close approach to Earth more than a century from now.’

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