OSIRIS-REx approaching the asteroid Bennu [photo courtesy of CSA: OSIRIS-REx artist's concept - Canadian Space Agency (asc-csa.gc.ca)

A NASA spacecraft dropped off a package on September 24. What’s inside? Probably nothing more than a cup of dust and pebbles. But to scientists, it’s treasure.

Why? It was scooped from the surface of an asteroid.

A chip off the old block

Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, was discovered in 1999. It orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Every six years, it passes very close to Earth.