NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft returned rocks from the asteroid Bennu to Earth last month. The researchers began studying the samples. They appear to contain ingredients important for life: carbon and water.
We’ve been able to get a first look at soil samples from a 4.5 billion year old asteroid. They are full of carbon and water – essential ingredients for life.
“As we look at ancient secrets preserved in the dust and debris of asteroid Bennu, we are opening a time capsule that offers us profound insights into the origins of our solar system,” he said. Dante LaurettaPrincipal investigator of the OSIRIS-Rex mission, In the current situation. “The abundance of carbon-rich materials and the presence of hydrated clay minerals are just the tip of the cosmic iceberg.”
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The samples were collected from Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx probe in 2020. The spacecraft traveled millions of kilometers to return to Earth. The capsule filled with samples landed in the Utah desert on September 24. The capsule was then transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where researchers began analyzing its contents in clean rooms designated for the mission.
OSIRIS-REx’s goal was to collect about 60 grams of material from Bennu. Space rocks were formed billions of years ago and were not changed by heat or water, as happens with meteorites that collide with the Earth.
The capsule actually contains much more substance than 60 grams. The researchers haven’t even analyzed the entire content yet. They began their analysis with the charcoal-colored dust and grit that was present on the lid and around the bottom of the sample tray. They conducted a number of tests that showed the presence of water, carbon, and various organic molecules.
The building blocks of life
The geologist says: “Carbon and water are not life, but they are the basic building blocks that life needs, and there are other important materials and minerals.” Timothy Gloch From Stony Brook University in New York. He says the researchers expected some of the elements in the samples. Further analysis will show how water has changed the space rock over time.
Planetary researcher Paul Byrne This has implications for our view of how water got to Earth, as well as the timeline for water’s presence on other planets, says of Washington University in St. Louis. He says knowing how much water there is on Bennu can tell us “whether the Earth was born wet, or was born dry and the water came later.” He says researchers can extrapolate this view to planets like Venus, which are now dry, but may once have contained water.
NASA researchers will continue analyzing the samples over the next two years. But they will retain at least 70% of the material for further research by scientists around the world and in the future.