NASA is set to release images of the largest sample of asteroids ever collected in space

On Wednesday, NASA is set to reveal the first images of the largest sample of asteroids ever collected in space, which scientists hope will provide clues about the early days of our solar system and possibly the origins of life.

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The OSIRIS-REx mission collected rock and dust from the asteroid Bennu in 2020, and a capsule containing the precious cargo successfully returned to Earth two weeks ago, landing in the Utah desert.

It is now being painstakingly analyzed in a special clean room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The space agency will hold a live broadcast news conference at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time (1500 GMT) to share the images and preliminary science analysis.

OSIRIS-REx is not the first mission to rendezvous with an asteroid and bring back samples for study — Japan has accomplished the feat twice, returning pieces of space pebbles in 2010 and 2020.

But the substantial amount of material — 250 grams (half a pound) — versus the 5.4 grams returned by Japan’s Hayabusa2 — is a major difference.

NASA chose Bennu as the model because it is believed to be rich in organic compounds.

Scientists theorize that similar asteroids may have provided Earth with organic building blocks along with water through collisions billions of years ago.

Bennu’s orbit intersects that of our planet, making it easier to tour than to visit the asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter.

NASA researchers have so far been pleased with the discovery of „bonus particles,” described as black dust and debris coating the sample collector.

In October 2020, when the OSIRIS-REx probe fired nitrogen gas at Bennu to collect its sample, a flap to seal it was pried open by a rock, allowing some finer material to escape the collector completely. .

„The best 'problem’ is that there is so much material that it’s taking longer than we expected to collect,” Christopher Snead, deputy OSIRIS-REx head of curation, said in a statement.

„Having all that stuff out there is pretty awesome.”

Bennu is thought to have formed from a large asteroid fragment in the asteroid belt following a massive collision one to two billion years ago.

Data collected by the spacecraft revealed that the particles that make up its exterior are so loosely packed that if one steps on the surface, they sink like entering a cavity of plastic balls.

In addition to scientific insights, a better understanding of Bennu’s composition would be useful if humanity were ever to drift away.

While it is unlikely to hit Earth in the mid-2100s, NASA says the chances rise to 1 between 1750 and 2300.


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