NASA Struggles to Open OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Samples
Imagine trying to open a jar of peanut butter, only to find that your wrist lacks the strength to access its delicious contents. That’s the predicament NASA currently faces with the OSIRIS-REx asteroid samples, although these samples are definitely not meant for consumption.
A $1.16 Billion Mission
NASA embarked on a $1.16 billion mission to retrieve fragments of space rock from an asteroid located 200 million miles away from Earth. The goal was to bring these samples back to our planet for further study. However, NASA now finds itself unable to open the jar-like sample container due to two stubborn holders known as TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism). Scientists are eager to access the samples as they could provide valuable insights into the formation of the solar system and the origins of life.
Some Science Already Underway
Fortunately, the exterior of the sample container is covered in an abundance of asteroid material, allowing scientists to conduct some initial analysis. During a recent press conference, OSIRIS-REx sample analyst Daniel Glavin described the asteroid pieces as “an astrobiologist’s dream.” Carbon and water molecules have already been identified.
Unlocking the Secrets of Life’s Origins
Astrobiologists are excited about the potential discoveries that a full analysis of the ancient asteroid’s material could yield. Jean-Pierre de Vera, an astrobiologist at the German Aerospace Center, believes that the OSIRIS-REx samples could help determine whether asteroids played a role in delivering water and organic compounds to Earth during its early years. These samples could provide insights into the first building blocks of life.
Meteorites: Windows into the Solar System
Whenever meteorites are found on Earth, scientists have the opportunity to study the origins of the solar system. Many of these rocks, known as carbonaceous chondrites, contain carbon-bearing meteorites that offer clues about the formation of our solar system and the development of Earth-like worlds. However, these meteorites are immediately contaminated upon impact with Earth, making the uncontaminated OSIRIS-REx asteroid samples even more valuable.
Unveiling the Ingredients for Life
Astrobiologist Sawsan Wehbi from the University of Arizona is particularly interested in studying the amino acids present in the Bennu asteroid samples. She hopes to compare them with the amino acids found during the early years of life on Earth, shedding light on whether these building blocks originated from outer space.
Unlocking Bennu’s Secrets
Bennu, named after an ancient Egyptian deity associated with rebirth, is a primitive asteroid dating back to the early stages of the solar system. Scientists believe it holds valuable information about the formation of the solar system and the existence of primordial organic components. By studying Bennu, scientists can gain insights into its evolution and the chemical complexity that occurred during its formation.
Life’s Origins: More Than Just Ingredients
While the chemical composition of Bennu’s samples is important, astrobiologist Michael Wong emphasizes that understanding the processes that led to the formation of life is equally crucial. The study of Bennu’s samples can provide valuable insights into the processes that allow molecules to work together and potentially give rise to life.
Public Access to Bennu Samples
The Bennu asteroid samples are now available for public viewing at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. This allows visitors to contemplate the origins of life on Earth while awaiting the publication of the rock analysis.
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