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Why did NASA punch an asteroid?

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Where did life come from? What’s the history of water in our solar system? Did asteroids contribute to the emergence of life on our planet? Did they deliver water to Earth?

In pursuit of answers to these questions, NASA embarked on a groundbreaking endeavor: collect samples from the asteroid Bennu, a (relatively) near-Earth asteroid.

After years of planning and execution, the OSIRIS-REx mission set off for Bennu in 2016, orbited it, successfully retrieved samples from Bennu’s surface by “punching it”β€”a Touch-And-Go or TAG maneuver to collect the disturbed dust and pebblesβ€”and returned them to Earth in 2023.

Osiris Rex touchdown on Bennu
This achievement marked a significant milestone in space exploration, providing scientists with valuable material to study for decades to come.

In this episode of Be Smart, Dr Joe Hanson visits with Tim McCoy, a curator of meteorites at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. With various artifacts in hand, they discuss the age, formation, composition, and significance of rocks from space, the scientific instruments and analyses used to study the Bennu samples, and the challenges of studying space rocks found on Earth.

Tim McCoy and Joe Hanson
Collecting samples in space, rather than on Earth, is crucial because space rocks like those from Bennu offer pristine snapshots of the early solar system, preserving vital information about its formation and evolution that may have been altered or lost on Earth.

Bennu’s uncontaminated samples offer scientists a unique opportunity to study them without interference from Earth’s environment. Their findings could reveal crucial insights into our cosmic origins, potential extraterrestrial life, and resources for future space exploration.

Bennu samples
For more, read the OSIRIS-REx mission in-depth summary at

Plus, travel back in time with these videos on TKSST: Chasing Asteroid Bennu, a NYT Out There video from 2016 and OSIRIS-REx returns to Earth with 250 pristine grams of Bennu asteroid from 2023.

Then watch these handpicked videos next:
β€’Β Space Rocks: Comets, asteroids, meteors, and meteorites
β€’Β How did life on Earth begin?
β€’ The mysterious origins of life on Earth
β€’Β Why is water one of the weirdest things in the universe?
β€’Β The Basics of Freshwater + Water, Water, Everywhere?
β€’Β The Meteorite Museum: A visit with ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies

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The Meteorite Museum: A visit with ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies

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