This NASA Spacecraft Could Unveil the Origins of Life

NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission is ready for its long-awaited touchdown on asteroid Bennu. What will its samples reveal?
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NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, was launched approximately 4 years ago in September 2016 with the goal of collecting samples from an asteroid. Specifically, a rare B-type asteroid. B-type asteroids are primitive, meaning they haven’t changed much since the Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. And this could mean they contain carbon-based organic molecules similar to those that led to life on Earth.

The B-type asteroid OSIRIS-REx was launched at is called Bennu, formerly known as RQ36, and since December 2018, OSIRIS-REx has been surveying and orbiting Bennu, mapping the asteroid’s surface, tracking its spin, ad gaining experience flying close to a small body.

Find out more about the science OSIRIS-REx has been doing as it whizzes around Bennu and the mission’s findings in this Elements.

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Read More:
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Begins its Countdown to TAG
“In just a few weeks, the robotic OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will descend to asteroid Bennu’s boulder-strewn surface, touch down for a few seconds and collect a sample of the asteroid’s rocks and dust – marking the first time NASA has grabbed pieces of an asteroid, which will be returned to Earth for study.”

Mysterious asteroid activity complicates NASA’s sampling attempts
“The abundance of impact craters on Bennu’s ridgelike belly suggest the asteroid is up to a billion years old, more ancient than once thought.”

Do asteroids hold the key to life on Earth?
“‘The water and organics on Earth didn’t form with the planet, they came in later on asteroids,’ explains Harold Levison, a chief planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, US.”


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