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Asteroid sample contains water, carbon, NASA says

Seven years after launching a spacecraft, NASA finally has its hands on a sample from a 4.7-billion-year-old asteroid.
Asteroid sample contains water, carbon, NASA says
Posted at 2:25 PM, Oct 12, 2023

NASA said it has taken initial samples from a fragment of an asteroid returned to Earth and discovered it contains many of the building blocks needed for life. 

On Wednesday, NASA said that the fragment from the Bennu asteroid contained high levels of carbon and water. The fragment was captured as part of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission. 

The mission's spacecraft launched in September 2016 and arrived on Bennu in December 2018. The spacecraft then grabbed a sample from Bennu in October 2020. The sample returned to Earth last month. 

The mission grabbed a 2-ounce sample from Bennu and sealed it in a capsule. 

Although the sample made it back to Earth, NASA is using the spacecraft used to gather the sample to orbit the Apophis asteroid. It is expected to arrive there in 2029. 

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Even though scientists were able to do an initial assessment of the fragment, they will continue studying the sample for up to two more years. 

“The OSIRIS-REx sample is the biggest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever delivered to Earth and will help scientists investigate the origins of life on our own planet for generations to come,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Almost everything we do at NASA seeks to answer questions about who we are and where we come from. NASA missions like OSIRIS-REx will improve our understanding of asteroids that could threaten Earth while giving us a glimpse into what lies beyond."

The asteroid is believed to be about 4.7 billion years old, which can give scientists an idea about the origins of the Solar System. 

“As we peer into the ancient secrets preserved within the dust and rocks of asteroid Bennu, we are unlocking a time capsule that offers us profound insights into the origins of our solar system,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator. “The bounty of carbon-rich material and the abundant presence of water-bearing clay minerals are just the tip of the cosmic iceberg. These discoveries, made possible through years of dedicated collaboration and cutting-edge science, propel us on a journey to understand not only our celestial neighborhood but also the potential for life’s beginnings."

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