NASA will present the rock and soil samples collected from asteroid Bennu during a press conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center today. exhibited. According to scientists, these asteroid materials, which weigh between 100 and 250 grams, contain water and carbon.
Bennu materials also contain sulfur, an essential element for many geological metamorphisms in rocks. The mineral magnetite, which is one of the iron oxides and can play a role as a catalyst in organic chemical reactions, was also found in the sample.
NASA scientists unveiled the materials of asteroid Bennu two weeks after they reached Earth. On October 2, the Osiris Rex spacecraft landed the capsule containing the sample under a parachute in the Utah desert after traveling a round trip of 6.4 million kilometers. The capsule was then transported to the Johnson Space Center and scientists began analyzing it for signs of possible extraterrestrial life.
Bennu is a potentially hazardous asteroid with a one in 2,700 chance of hitting Earth in 2182, the highest probability of hitting our planet of any known space body. However, scientists are more interested in what is locked inside this space rock, i.e. the possible prerequisite materials for the emergence of life on Earth.
The capsule containing the asteroid Bennu descending towards Earth, moments after being released from the spacecraft on September 24. The sun can be seen at the top of the frame and the thin crescent of the earth can be seen on the side.
“This is the largest example of a carbon-rich asteroid ever brought to Earth,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at a news conference. Carbon and water molecules are exactly what we wanted to find. “They are important elements in the formation of our own planet and are supposed to help us determine the origin of the elements that may have led to the formation of life.”
Earth’s water is older than the planet itself and was probably brought here by an asteroid or comet impact. But water was not the only substance that asteroids brought to Earth; Because the building elements of life probably reached our planet riding on them. Bennu is a type B asteroid; That is, it contains large amounts of carbon and potentially many of the primordial molecules that existed when life appeared on Earth.
Among these constituent elements, uracil is one of the nucleotide bases of RNA, whose existence was recently confirmed in Ryogo asteroid. The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency returned to Earth in 2020 with a sample of this space rock. Scientists on the Osiris Rex mission hope to find other materials needed for Earth biology in the Bennu sample.
“By looking at the ancient secrets preserved in the dust and rocks of asteroid Bennu, we are opening a time capsule that gives us deep insight into the origins of the solar system,” Dante Loretta, Osiris Rex principal investigator, said at a news conference.
The Bennu sample was collected after nearly two years of intense searching to find the landing site of Osiris Rex on the rocky surface of this asteroid. Upon contact with Bennu, the spacecraft fired a burst of nitrogen with its sampler arm to prevent itself from sinking into the space rock in addition to collecting material.
That explosion caused the rock and soil of the asteroid to rise around the spacecraft. Then some of that debris landed in a small compartment on the Osiris Rex. Finally, the spacecraft took off from Bennu’s surface after starting its engines and left the asteroid for Earth in May 2021.