After a seven-year mission, NASA revealed on Wednesday the asteroid sample it collected from a 4 billion-mile journey and brought back to Earth in September.
NASA hosted the unveiling from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Since the spacecraft landed, NASA says it took the sample of rocks and dust to Johnson Space Center for analysis.
Teams are working with glove boxes to try to keep the samples pristine, in a clean lab, which will take time, but it is leading to some early discoveries already.
For instance, particles looked at under electron microscopes found water crystals, and scientists theorize that may have been how water got to Earth and other planets billions of years ago.
NASA has said Bennu may hold clues to how life began on our planet.
“The carbon and water molecules are exactly the kinds of material that we wanted to find,” administrator Bill Nelson said. “They’re crucial elements in the formation of our own planet.”
Here they are. These bits of ancient space rock may hold clues to how the rocky planets—including our own—formed. Scientists worldwide will study the #OSIRISREx sample for generations to come to get answers on where we come from. pic.twitter.com/2yN2cs36gQ— NASA (@NASA) October 11, 2023
Scientists will also use asteroid samples to determine if Bennu or other asteroids may have seeded the Earth with the building blocks of life, like carbon.
It is believed Bennu is a remnant of the formation of the solar system.
The OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer) mission launched from the Space Coast in September 2016. Then, after touching the asteroid Bennu in 2020, OSIRIS-REx came home landing a week ago in the Utah desert.
While some of the sample will be on display at museums, NASA said much of it will continue to be studied, just like the moon rocks at the Johnson Space Center more than 50 years after the Apollo missions.
“So over the next months and years, we’re all going to be definitely rewriting some history,” director of the Goddard Spaceflight Center, Makenzie Lystrup said.
“Scientists that aren’t even born yet are going to have the opportunity to answer questions about our universe with these samples using technology that has not even been invented,” astromaterials curator Francis McCubbin added.
As for the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, NASA said after returning the sample it’s now on its way to study a different asteroid. It should reach that asteroid’s orbit in about six years.
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