Rocks and soil
gathered from the space rock known as Bennu
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe recently returned samples from space to Earth, revealing a high concentration of carbon and water-bearing clay minerals. These minerals date back to the early days of the solar system, providing valuable information about the origin of our planet. This discovery also supports existing theories about how water may have been brought to Earth long ago.
According to Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and the lead researcher of the mission to collect samples from an asteroid, the clay minerals contain water trapped within their crystal structure. He shared initial photos of the material.
Lauretta paused to contemplate the significance of this statement. She proposed that this is the most probable explanation for the presence of water on Earth.
According to Lauretta, the presence of clay minerals on Earth, which were brought here by Bennu around 4.5 billion years ago, is what has made our planet habitable and allowed for the formation of bodies of water such as oceans, lakes, rivers, and rain.
“We are observing how water was eventually integrated into planets.”
The spacecraft arrived in Utah on September 24th, almost three years after its touch-and-go sample collection device was briefly activated.
“Upon descending onto the surface of the asteroid Bennu, which is covered in debris.”
The researchers had anticipated that the TAGSAM would have been opened by this point, exposing approximately half a pound of material that was believed to be caught inside. However, they were taken aback to discover dust and tiny pieces from Bennu scattered inside the sample return capsule, right outside the TAGSAM.
The initiation of TAGSAM was postponed as scientists eagerly analyzed the additional material, which revealed an exciting preview of future findings.
“The progress has been deliberate and meticulous, but the research has already begun,” stated Lauretta, a planetary scientist from the University of Arizona. “This is a valuable scientific discovery.”
The samples are being studied inside an environmentally isolated laboratory at the Texas space center where Apollo moon samples also are protectively housed. Initial examination of the asteroid dust by a powerful electron microscope revealed water-bearing clay minerals, sulfides and high concentrations of carbon.
According to Lauretta, sulfides, along with carbon compounds and clays, play a crucial role in planetary evolution. They influence the rate of melting and are also essential for biological processes. Many amino acids, which are responsible for the structure of proteins, utilize sulfur to form bonds and create connections.
According to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, the samples collected from Bennu are the largest amount of carbon-rich material ever brought back to our planet.
He stated that the molecules of carbon and water are precisely the type of substances we were searching for. These elements are essential in the creation of our planet and will aid us in understanding the source of elements that may have contributed to the existence of life.
After TAGSAM is unsealed and the complete sample is sorted, approximately 25% will be set aside for examination by the OSIRIS-REx team at the Johnson Space Center. An additional 4% will be distributed to the Canadian Space Agency, the provider of the OSIRIS-REx laser altimeter instrument, and roughly 0.5% will be allocated to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
A small amount of the substance will be securely stored at a center in White Sands, New Mexico, while the remainder will be preserved for future examination by researchers globally.
The material that was released from the TAGSAM when it was turned over was shown on Wednesday, according to Lauretta. He also mentioned that there is a significant amount of material hidden beneath the flap, and the sample science team is eagerly anticipating being able to examine it.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and its sample return capsule are outfitted with three cameras, two spectrometers, a laser altimeter, and an X-ray imaging system. These tools were designed and built by college students.
On September 8, 2016, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral.
In December of 2018, the spacecraft successfully entered orbit around a 1,500-foot-wide asteroid for an extended period of mapping and analysis. Almost two years later, on October 20th, 2020, the spacecraft approached closer to the asteroid.
Inserted the TAGSAM tool into the asteroid’s surface..
The collector, resembling an upside-down pie dish, released bursts of nitrogen gas to agitate the ground below upon impact. The gas was then expelled through vents, trapping tiny rocks and soil fragments in filters.
The capture device was placed in an aerodynamic sample container by the robot arm of OSIRIS-REx before being brought back to Earth last month. The sample container was then transported from Utah to the Johnson Space Center’s Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office for two years of extensive examination.
The OSIRIS-REx mission’s main goal is to gather information about the materials that were present during the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. This will help us understand how the sun and its planets were created. “OSIRIS-REx” stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer.
Studying the makeup and changes of asteroids and comets is crucial in comprehending the source of water in Earth’s oceans and the process by which life emerged from transported organic compounds and chemicals.
Another practical motivation for researching asteroids and comets is the threat of potential collisions with Earth, such as the Tunguska event in 1908. This incident involved a 200-620 feet wide object exploding in the sky above western Russia, causing destruction across 770 square miles.
The OSIRIS-REx mission aims to comprehend the makeup and arrangement of Bennu in order to determine the most effective method for altering the trajectory of a similar object heading towards Earth.