Asteroid Bennu may reveal secrets of life on Earth. Its sample in NASA capsule will have…

Sep 24, 2023 10:02 PM IST

The sample from asteroid Bennu was collected in 2020, four years after the mission took off. The container will be opened soon.

After seven years of expedition and logging over 6.2 billion km, mothership Osiris-Rex has succesfully delivered rubble from an asteroid, Bennu, situated at such a distance from Earth that it is believed to come ‘dagerously close’ to the planet by next century which may lead to a possible collision. The capsule which brought the sample holds 250 g of material, however, the exact weight will be known in few weeks after precise measurement.

Undated image provided by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu seen from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.(AP)
Undated image provided by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu seen from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.(AP)

Also read: NASA capsule brings asteroid sample back to Earth. Where will it be studied?

It is the first time that NASA carried out a mission to bring back sample from an asteroid. Earlier, the US space agency sent spacecrafts to collect samples of the solar wind in 2004 and comet dust in 2006.

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The study of Bennu's sample will enable scientists to find out the origin of Sun and other planets and understand how life formed on Earth. After dropping off the Bennu sample, Osiris-Rex headed for another asteroid Apophis and it is expected to reach there in 2029. The study of these ateroids will also help scientists to find out ways to deflect them from hitting the Earth.

The container will be opened in next day or two with a public view.

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What will the sample be like?

  1. Pegged at a size roughly similar to a skyscrapper, Bennu is a carbon-rich asteroid. Therefore, the rubble collected from its surface will have material filled with a lot of carbon content, as close to 5-10% by mass.
  2. The sample is expected to be a mix of rocky fragments in sizes varying from a few millimetres to as small as a dust particle.
  3. Due to its carbonaceous form, the sample is expected to appear very dark, almost black, as well as crumbly.
  4. According to a theory, life on Earth began due to impacts of asteroids filled with important chemical compounds. Following on that, Bennu's sample is also expected to have fascinating organic molecules such as compounds of amino acids, which are the building units of proteins.
  5. The sample is also expected to show proof of water present in Bennu in different forms, as much as 10% by mass. It will also enable scientist to discover whether asteroids brought water along with it during collisions on the early Earth.

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