A NASA capsule carrying the largest sample ever collected from an asteroid has returned to Earth.
The capsule, which landed in the Utah desert at 3.52pm, contained around 250g of rocks and dust collected from asteroid Bennu as part of NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission.
Experts say the carbon-rich, near-Earth asteroid serves as a time capsule from the earliest history of the solar system.
It is anticipated the sample will provide important clues that could help us to understand the origin of organics and water that may have led to life on Earth.
Because the sample has been collected directly from the asteroid, there will be almost zero contamination.
It glowed red hot as it hit the upper atmosphere and plunged towards the Earth, with temperatures inside expected to peak at 2,800C.
Parachutes then deployed near the very end of its descent to safely bring the sample to the ground in the Utah desert.
It is now back at the NASA “clean room” for testing.
Reacting to the landing, Queen musician Brian May, who aided the mission by helping to identify where Osiris-Rex could grab a sample from the asteroid, said: “This box when it is opened of material from the surface of Bennu can tell us untold secrets of the origins of the universe, the origins of our planet and the origins of life itself.
“What an incredibly exciting day.”