And, if NASA, experts are right, OSIRIS-Rex is poised to answer humanity’s biggest question – ‘where did we come from?’ Remarkable images released from the US space agency shows the asteroid which measures a huge 262 metres. Using the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft scientists have followed the object around the solar system and are planning to land on its surface to collect vital samples to bring back to Earth by 2021.
Scientists believe the spacecraft may hold signs of water and organic compounds – called “hydrated minerals” by NASA – and could start to explain how life developed on Earth.
Some scientists have long theorised that life arrived on Earth via an asteroid. What is not known is whether that life arrived fully formed or whether the asteroid merely contained the building blocks of life. And this is what is exciting the NASA team.
Bennu has stunned experts for decades and many believe its properties are vital for proving organic compounds exist outside the solar system.
Beenu is regarded asa B-type asteroid and has similar clay-like properties comparable to how Earth started out millions of years ago.
Scientists also believe the asteroid may have been a part of a much larger object.
It is thought the space rock may have collided with another asteroid between 700 millon and two billion years ago.
Bashar Rizk, instrument scientist for OSIRIS-Rex highlighted the significance of the mission on mankind.
Mr Rizk said: “The story of this asteroid is the story of the solar system.
“When we understand Bennu, we will understand something fundamental about our solar system.”
The mission targeted a sample site with a radius of 25m.
However such sites do not exist on Bennu, and NASA has since set out to study sample areas from ranging from 5 to 10m
The four candidate sample sites on Bennu are designated Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey, and Sandpiper – all birds native to Egypt.
Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: “Although OSIRIS-REx was designed to collect a sample from an asteroid with a beach-like area, the extraordinary in-flight performance to date demonstrates that we will be able to meet the challenge that the rugged surface of Bennu presents.
“That extraordinary performance encompasses not only the spacecraft and instruments, but also the team who continues to meet every challenge that Bennu throws at us.”
Nightingale, the northern-most site, features multiple possible sampling regions in this site, which is set in a small crater encompassed by a 459 feet diameter crater.
Kingfisher is located in a small crater, 26 feet in diameter, near Bennu’s equator at 11 degrees north latitude. It is also known to have the strongest spectral signature for hydrated minerals.
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Osprey is set in a slightly larger crater, 66 feet in diameter, also located in Bennu’s equatorial region. Osprey has the strongest spectral signature of carbon-rich material.
Finally, Sandpiper is in a relatively flat area on the wall of a large crater 207 ft in diameter.
Hydrated minerals are also present.
Bennu was discovered on September, 11 1999 after a Near-Earth asteroid survey undertaken by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research.
Experts have calculated Bennu has a one in 2,700 chance of hitting Earth between 2175 and 2199.