A close-up of the sample collected by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Credit: NASA

Samples from asteroid Bennu contain the key ingredients of life

We’ve had a first look at samples from a 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid and they are full of carbon and water – the necessary ingredients for life.

The samples were extracted from Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in 2020. The spacecraft travelled millions of kilometres in order to return to Earth. The sample-filled capsule touched down in the Utah desert  on 24 September. The capsule was then transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where researchers started analyzing its contents in clean rooms built especially for the mission.

They subjected some of this material to a battery of analytical tests, which revealed the presence of water, carbon and several organic molecules.

Paul Byrne at Washington University in St. Louis says that this may have implications for how water came to Earth and the timeline of water's presence on other planets.  Learning just how much water there is on Bennu could tell us “whether Earth was born wet, or born dry and then water was brought to it.” Researchers could extrapolate this understanding to planets like Venus that are currently dry but may have once carried water, he says.

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