A NASA capsule containing chunks of an asteroid that may hold clues to the solar system landed in the Utah desert on Sunday.
The capsule touched down successfully at 8:52 a.m. local time, NASA said on a live steam. The location is Dugway, Utah, about 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
“This marks the US’s first sample return mission of its kind and will open a time capsule to the beginnings of our solar system,” NASA said in a post on X, the website formerly known as Twitter.
The NASA mission, called OSIRIS-REx, has been more than a decade in the making. The spacecraft launched in 2016 scooped up a large sample of rocks and dust from a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu in 2020. This weekend, it passed Earth and sent the capsule to its landing spot in remote Utah.
The sample will help scientists get a snapshot of what materials were present when the solar system first formed. Researchers plan to study the recovered rocks and use the mission to inform future exploration.
OSIRIS-REx may also help inform future missions to asteroids — perhaps even ones to mine these rocks for resources.
Scientists weren’t sure exactly how much sample is in the container, but suspect it’s the most ever collected from an asteroid, weighing roughly 250 grams — or about as much as a hamster. That will give them more rocks to analyze than ever before.
OSIRIS-REx grabbed more rocks and materials than expected — so much, that it jammed the spacecraft’s sample collector open and some of it went spewing out into space. NASA opted not to measure the sample and instead quickly stowed the rocks to keep them safe.
The spacecraft left Bennu with the sample in 2021, and has been en route to Earth ever since.