A team of UK scientists is analysing a rocky sample collected from the asteroid Bennu for the first time. The Osiris-Rex spacecraft embarked on its journey in 2016, successfully gathering the sample in 2020 during a daring mission located 205 million miles from Earth. After a nearly three-year return voyage, the NASA spacecraft delivered the sample to a US military base.
In recent days, Dr. Ashley King, a researcher from the UK’s Natural History Museum, and five other scientists have examined the sample in a specialized lab at the Johnson Space Center. Their analysis revealed that the black asteroid dust comprises carbon and clay minerals rich in water.
This discovery has significant implications, as some scientists believe that asteroids like Bennu may have delivered crucial materials to Earth, including water, which played a role in sparking life on our planet about 4.5 billion years ago.
The examination of the asteroid dust involved various scientific equipment, such as an electron microscope, X-ray diffraction, and a computed tomography (CT) machine. The researchers found that approximately 5% of the dust’s weight is composed of carbon.
The mission team estimates that they have around 250 grams of asteroid dust in total, which will be distributed among scientists for further investigation. Approximately 100 milligrams will be sent to the UK, where it will be studied by Dr. King’s team at the NHM, along with collaborators from the Open, Oxford, and Manchester universities.
However, the majority, approximately 75% of the dust, will be archived by NASA to provide future generations of scientists the opportunity to examine it using yet-to-be-invented equipment.
The study of this asteroid sample has the potential to offer invaluable insights into Earth’s history and its role in making our planet habitable.