NASA unveils historic asteroid sample

(NewsNation) — NASA unveiled the first asteroid samples from the OSIRIS-REx mission, the first time the agency has been able to bring material from an asteroid to Earth. Early analysis has already revealed information about key elements necessary for life to form on a planet.

The historic sample from OSIRIS-REx landed in Utah and was carefully transported to Texas, where scientists could begin the detailed process of unpacking it.

Scientists are still readying the material from the Bennu asteroid, having yet to unpack the main TAGSAM, which contains the bulk of the sample. However, early analysis of other samples found outside the TAGSAM has given them hope that the seven-year mission will help better understand the origins of life on Earth.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said the asteroid samples may help answer some existential and scientific questions about what happened as the universe and our solar system came into being.

“Who are we? How did we get here?” he said. “Where are we in the vastness of the cosmos?”

The mission returned roughly 250 grams of dust and rock from Bennu, which must be unpacked in a clean room to avoid contamination by the Earth’s atmosphere.

Initial analysis shows the sample contains water in the form of hydrated clay minerals, along with carbon, sulfur and iron. Carbon is a key building block for life, and researchers hope to determine how asteroids like Bennu could have seeded the Earth with elements like water and carbon roughly 4 billion years ago, allowing life to develop on our planet.

“These are crucial elements in the formation of our own planet,” Nelson said.

Researchers also hope the sample will help them understand asteroids better in hopes of preventing the celestial bodies from crashing into Earth in a potentially catastrophic event.

Three samples will be sent to museums for the public to view, while the rest of the material is expected to take the international team of 230 scientists about six months to catalog. Once that is done, outside researchers will be able to develop and submit research proposals in hopes of getting access to some of the material.

Samples will also be carefully preserved for future scientists, who may have the technology to pose questions that researchers today may not yet be able to imagine.

Meanwhile, after delivering the sample to Earth, the OSIRIS-REx set off on a new mission to the asteroid Apophis, which it is expected to reach in 2029.

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