Asteroid Bennu contains water and carbon, NASA announces

2023-10-11 16:52:25

The asteroid Bennu contains water and carbon as scientists hoped, NASA announced Wednesday, revealing the first images of dust and blackened bits from the largest asteroid sample ever brought to Earth.

“Water and carbon molecules are exactly the kind of matter we wanted to find,” NASA boss Bill Nelson said at an event in Houston. “These are crucial elements in the formation of our own planet, and they will help us determine the origin of elements that could have led to life.”

The Osiris-Rex mission took this sample in 2020 from the asteroid Bennu, and the capsule containing the precious cargo successfully returned to Earth a little over two weeks ago, landing in the American desert.

Since then, the meticulous process of opening the capsule has taken place in a white room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

But the operation held some surprises.

Because of the abundance of material found outside the collection compartment itself, it has not yet begun to be opened, said Eileen Stansbery, chief scientist at the Johnson Space Center.

“We take our time to carry out treatment methodically, and take care of each piece of Bennu properly,” she explained.

Before the capsule landed, the US space agency estimated it had succeeded in picking up around 250 grams of material from the asteroid Bennu — much more than two previous Japanese missions to other asteroids.

NASA, for whom such a maneuver was a first, will still have to confirm this estimate.

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