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UA knowledgeable marvels at 'scientific treasure' from 7-year asteroid mission

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A College of Arizona scientist joined NASA officers
Wednesday to unveil the outcomes of a profitable multiyear mission to a
near-Earth asteroid that returned final month bearing what they referred to as
“scientific treasure.”

OSIRIS-REx set a number of information on its seven-year journey to the
asteroid Bennu, the place it collected 4 occasions as a lot materials as
deliberate – materials together with carbon and water-bearing clay that would
maintain clues to the event of Earth.

“I spent the weekend looking at this picture for hours and hours and
getting extra excited by the day,” stated Dante Lauretta, a professor at
the College of Arizona, one of many leads on the mission.

Lauretta and different researchers are excited by the roughly 250 grams
of dust and rocks that landed Sept. 24 within the Utah desert in a canister
that they haven’t even opened but – however which held an overflow of mud
that they’ve began to investigate.

“Every little thing is a brand new discovery as we’re glimpsing the early a part of
the event of this magnificent factor referred to as the universe,” NASA
Administrator Invoice Nelson stated throughout a press occasion Wednesday.

The occasion was the fruits of years of labor on the Origins,
Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification and Safety – Regolith
Explorer – shortened to OSIRIS-REx – that started as a mission on the College of Arizona’s School of Science’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

Launched in 2016, the $800 million spacecraft took 4 years to succeed in Bennu,
a rocky, carbon-rich asteroid about one-third of a mile huge at its
equator. As soon as there, it carried out a tough touch-and-go maneuver in
which a spacecraft arm touched down on the asteroid floor for a matter
of seconds, kicking up mud that was collected in a canister earlier than
heading again to house – and to Earth.

One cause Bennu was chosen was its age – it’s believed to be as
many as 4.5 billion years previous. Researchers hope the fabric gathered
there’ll give perception into the historical past of Earth.

“We picked the suitable asteroid. And never solely that we introduced again the
proper pattern,” stated Daniel Glavin, OSIRIS-REx pattern evaluation lead at
the NASA Goddard Area Flight Heart. “These items is an astrobiologist’s

OSIRIS-REx flew by Earth final month and jettisoned the Contact-And-Go
Pattern Acquisition Mechanism, the gathering canister that touched down
on Bennu. The TAGSAM landed in Utah on Sept. 24 and was taken to NASA’s
Johnson Area Flight Heart in Houston.

Officers stated evaluation of the contents has been slowed by the very fact
that materials from the asteroid has been discovered on the skin of the
canister, a bonus for researchers earlier than they absolutely open it.

Glavin stated samples which have been analyzed thus far reveal the
“highest abundance of carbon they’ve ever measured in any
extraterrestrial pattern.” Not solely was the unique seek for carbon
profitable, however there have been additionally water-bearing clay minerals, sulfur and
iron introduced again from the asteroid.

“The rationale that Earth is a liveable world, that now we have oceans and
lakes and rivers and rain, is as a result of these clay minerals, like those
we’re seeing from Bennu, landed on Earth 4 billion years in the past to 4.5
billion years in the past, making our world liveable,” Lauretta stated.

The sulfur, iron and carbon discovered within the Bennu samples, might additionally
play essential roles in revealing extra of Earth’s historical past. Lauretta, a
sulfide mineralogist, stated he’s most excited to “get inside” of the
sulfurous supplies that have been introduced again and see what”s happening.

Scientists at NASA predict they are going to have round 250 grams of pattern
materials as soon as they open the canister, greater than 4 occasions the quantity
they’d meant to carry residence. The fabric will then be divided up
and despatched for evaluation to laboratories world wide, together with to the
College of Arizona.

OSIRIS-REx will proceed on to a rendezvous with one other asteroid,
Apophis, when it nears Earth in 2029. Within the meantime, Glavin stated the
materials from Bennu will probably be round for researchers to review “for
generations and generations.”

That was echoed by Nelson.

“We’re going to have solutions to questions that we don’t even know what the questions are actually,” Nelson stated.

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