NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrives at asteroid Bennu

Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer spacecraft is seen

Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer spacecraft is seen

Now OSIRIS-REx faces a whole new kind of challenge: exploring the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft. The asteroid, which has a width of 500 meters (1640 feet), could hit Earth between 2175 to 2196, although there is less than a 1 per cent chance of that happening, based on current data.

Over two-years after launch, the NASA probe OSIRIS-REx will land on a skyscraper-sized asteroid on Monday for the first USA mission to carry asteroid samples back to Earth.

A live NASA broadcast of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's formal arrival begins at 11:45 am (1645 GMT).

The chances of Bennu striking earth are still a fraction of a per cent. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that OSIRIS-REx arrived within Bennu's Hill Sphere - the region where the asteroid's gravity field is stronger than the Sun's - on 1 December.

The mission marks the first attempt by a U.S. craft to successfully land on an asteroid following Japan's recent success with the Ryugu asteroid, which is approximately double the size of Bennu.

And OSIRIS-REx's precise tracking of Bennu through space will help researchers better understand the non-gravitational forces (specifically, the Yarkovsky effect) that shape asteroids' trajectories.

OSIRIS-REx mission marks many firsts in space exploration.

"OSIRIS-REx seeks answers to the questions that are central to the human experience: Where did we come from?" Although it's easy to assume that an asteroid mission would target the asteroid belt, Bennu isn't tucked in this rocky region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

It will return the sample to earth in 2023 for analysis by NASA scientists.

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Bennu is considered a potentially hazardous asteroid - it is due to make a close pass of Earth about 150 years.

"For the past several months, Bennu has been coming into focus as I approached", the probe's Twitter account said.

Meanwhile, a Japanese probe is circling an asteroid named Ryugu, about double the size of Bennu, with a plan to bring home some specks of space dust.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (Nasa) deep space probe has reached an asteroid which has a potential to collide with Earth.

Meanwhile, the sample will plummet back down to Earth in what looks like a tiny Apollo capsule, landing somewhere in the Utah desert to be collected by curious NASA scientists.

Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid - a primitive, carbon-rich piece of debris left over from the process that formed the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

OSIRIS-Rex will stay on the asteroid for two years and then will return to Earth in a historic first. "Now we're at it again, working with our partners in the USA and Canada to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing back to Earth a piece of the early solar system".

'Bennu is a leftover fragment from the tumultuous formation of the solar system, ' NASA says. Carbon is the key to the organic molecules needed for life, so finding organic molecules on a sample from Bennu would help to answer a big question about the origin of life.

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