NASA reveals 1st asteroid sample collected from outer space

The first asteroid sample collected from outer space was revealed Wednesday by NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, News.Az reports citing Anadolu Agency. 

"It's all amazing," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson at a news conference. "It's going to deepen our understanding of our solar system."

OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer, was launched Sept. 8, 2016. It was the first US mission to collect an uncontaminated sample from outer space from asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft returned to Earth on Sept. 24 to drop off a capsule with the material which will be studied by more than 200 scientists from around the world.

The seven-year mission yielded 250 grams (8.8 ounces) of asteroid dust and molecules, which was nearly four times the amount NASA expected OSIRIS-REx to collect. The first analysis of the samples revealed hydrated clay minerals containing carbon.

"At nearly 5% carbon by weight, carbon being the central element of life ... this is the biggest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever returned to Earth," said Nelson.

The samples also include sulfur and iron oxide materials, which scientists said are critical to the study of biology and organic evolution. Also crucial is that the minerals collected from Bennu are water-bearing.

"That water, that is how we think water got to the Earth. The reason that Earth is a habitable world, that we have oceans and lakes and rivers and rain is because these clay minerals ... landed on Earth 4 billion years ago to 4 1/2 billion years ago making our world habitable," said OSIRIS-REx principle investigator Dante Lauretta. "So we're seeing the way that water got incorporated into solid material and then ultimately into planets, and not just Earth, but probably Venus and Mars also had abundant water as well."

NASA said the mission that saw OSIRIS-REx travel nearly 4 billion miles through the solar system to Bennu and back to Earth is part of its goal to press the unknown to try and find the origins of our existence.

"One of our missions ... is to look for life," said Nelson. "That's why we're digging on Mars, that's why we go out into the far regions of the very beginning, returning, capturing light from the formation of the first galaxy."


The reported $1.16 billion OSIRIS-REx project was a multi-pronged mission with the first part to collect samples from Bennu.

The spaceship is already on the next part of its journey to collect more specimens from asteroid Apophis, which it is currently on course to do by 2029.


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