Loose regolith was found on top of the container’s lid, which was still closed. Credits: NASA/Erika Blumenfeld and Joseph Aebersold
They started in Houston, nearAstronomical Materials Processing Facility From NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the first analyzes of a regolith sample from the asteroid Bennu that was returned to Earth last September 24 inside the re-entry capsule of the OSIRIS-REx probe (Origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification and security – Regolith Explorer).
It was NASA Administrator Bill Nelson who announced the first results during a JSC live event held last October 11:
“Early analyzes reveal abundant water content in the form of hydrated clay minerals and the presence of carbon, both in mineral form and in the form of organic molecules,” Nelson said. “This is the largest carbon-rich sample from an asteroid returned to Earth to date, and will allow many generations of scientists to investigate the origin of life. “Almost everything we do at NASA serves to answer questions about who we are and where we come from.”
“The OSIRIS-REx sample is the largest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever delivered to Earth, and will help scientists investigate the origins of life on our planet for generations to come.”
Clay minerals form in the presence of water and contain mainly aluminum and silicon and in smaller quantities iron, magnesium, sodium, potassium and other chemical elements.
The presence of water and organic compounds naturally points to the origin of life on our planet, and in the coming years the nature of these organic compounds will be studied, with the hope of enhancing our knowledge of them.
Opening of the sealed container containing the collected sample has slowed in recent weeks due to the unexpected and welcome presence of regolith on the inner lid. The analyzes carried out point to this external regolith, which was immediately identified as a bounty by scientists, who expect to find an amount of at least 150 to 250 grams inside the container.
After setting up a dedicated laboratory and preparing for years for the various procedures that will be used, scientists at JSC have already performed numerous scanning electron microscopy operations, infrared measurements, X-ray diffraction to study the crystal lattice, X-rays and chemical analyses.
“As we glimpse for the first time these ancient secrets preserved for billions of years in the rocks of asteroid Bennu, we open a time capsule that offers us profound insights into the origin of our solar system,” commented Dante Lauretta, director of the school. Mission investigator. “Finding a material rich in carbon and water is just the tip of the cosmic iceberg. These discoveries, made possible by years of dedicated collaboration and world-class science, will lead us to understand not only our celestial neighbors, but also the possible origins of life.
In the next few weeks, the sealed container will be opened and preliminary analyzes of the internal sample will begin. As previously announced, about 70% of the sample will be kept intact for future analyses, while the remaining 30% will be distributed to various research centers around the world for study by more than 200 scientists. A portion will also arrive in Italy, possibly to the INAF observatory in Arcetri, south of Florence.