‘It’s amazing’: scientists analyse 4.6bn-year-old dark dust from Bennu asteroid

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A teaspoon’s worth of black dust and grains have arrived from an asteroid 200 meters from Earth. Natural History Museum In London, scientists are preparing to open the secrets.

Researchers at the museum received 100mg of pure material at 4.6 billion years old, based on the dawn of the solar system after NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission. It stopped on the asteroid Bennu In 2020 and Returned samples to earth in September.

The rover briefly touched down on asteroid Bennu, which has a 1 in 1,750 chance of hitting Earth in the next 300 years, and collected more than 60 grams of intact material, the largest amount returned from space since the Apollo program.

“It’s amazing. It’s like a little treasure that takes us back to the beginning of the solar system,” said Dr. Ashley King, a planetary scientist who works on grains at the museum. “I can’t wait to get my hands on them and see what we can learn about the early solar system.”

Preliminary analyzes by NASA researchers have found that they are fragments of an asteroid. Rich in carbon and waterSome carbon is bound in organic compounds. Scientists expect to study the samples for decades as they seek to understand how the solar system formed and how asteroids delivered large amounts of water to Earth and other planets.

One key area of ​​research is analyzing the hydrogen isotopes in Bennu’s trapped water, which match those found in Earth’s oceans.

Beyond questions of the origin of our universe, there are existential issues such as how to deflect or destroy asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth. At three-quarters of a mile wide, Bennu is much smaller than the six-mile-wide asteroid that spelled doom for the dinosaurs, but it would still cause significant damage if it hit Earth.

The first two years of research at the Natural History Museum will focus on non-destructive tests, such as X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy, to learn about Bennu’s mineral composition and structure. The largest grains in the sample are millimeter wide, and the smallest are dust particles.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot of material, but there’s a lot to work with,” King said. The museum has one of the largest collections of meteorites in the world, and the staff is well used to handling small amounts of extremely valuable material from space.

Unlike meteorites baked and battered during their fiery passage through Earth’s atmosphere, Bennu’s dust and rocky fragments come to Earth, allowing scientists to see the asteroid intact.

Professor Sarah Russell, leader of the Planetary Materials Group, said: “This material is no bigger than a teaspoon, keeping us busy as we learn every minute to understand its composition and structure and what secrets we can unlock.” Natural History Museum.

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