December 7, 2023

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Bennu asteroid samples may ‘fundamentally’ change views on life

Bennu asteroid samples may ‘fundamentally’ change views on life

We’ve all been there: You’re reaching for some peanut butter, or looking forward to eating a nice pickle, when you find that your wrist strength isn’t enough to reach the contents of the delicious jar. This is more or less NASA’s puzzling problem with OSIRIS-REx asteroid samples– Although the contents of this box are not intended for eating, of course.

correct. NASA was able to launch a $1.16 billion mission to an asteroid 200 million miles from Earth, retrieve fragmented pieces of space rock, and return them to our modest habitable world. Now he can’t open the jar. Specifically, two of the stabilizers on the TAGSAM (touch sample acquisition mechanism) refuse to yield to currently available instruments. Scientists hope that samples of the asteroid Bennu will bear evidence of its existence The formation of the solar system and the origins of lifeSo they are keen to move things along in an understandable way.

Fortunately, the outside of the sample box itself was covered Abundance of asteroid materialThis means that some science has already begun. At a press conference last month, OSIRIS-REx sample analyst Daniel Glavin Description of asteroid bit As an “astrobiologist’s dream”. They have already identified carbon and water molecules.

Gizmodo reached out to several astrobiologists to discuss exactly what they hope to learn from a full analysis of ancient asteroid materials. Here’s what they had to say.

Bennu is directing the material in January 2019.

“OSIRIS-REx samples can help us find out if this could also be achieved by asteroids, in addition to the supposed delivery of water to the primordial Earth by comets,” said Jean-Pierre de Vera, an astrobiologist at the German Aerospace Center. and president of the European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA), in an email to Gizmodo. “The question still remains as to how much organic material in these rocks could have been delivered to Earth and may have served as the first building blocks of life.”

Whenever meteorites are found on EarthThey provide scientists with an opportunity to investigate the origins of the solar system. Many of these pieces of rock are carbonaceous chondrites, a class of ancient carbon-bearing meteorites that contain the building blocks of life and show signs of hydrothermal alteration, that is, changes in their structure due to liquid water. As such, they provide an intimate window into how our solar system formed and gave rise to a world like Earth — rich in plate tectonics, covered in oceans, and teeming with living organisms.

but Meteorites landing on Earth It immediately becomes contaminated with the ground. Thanks to the painstaking efforts of the OSIRIS-REx team, scientists finally have access to asteroid samples uncontaminated by the vast amount of organic matter and changes that come as our planet’s atmosphere burns up and hits the surface, whether on land or sea.

“For the first time, we will be able to measure the abundance of all 20 amino acids that make up a protein from an asteroid sample untouched by life on Earth,” Sawsan Wehbe, an astrobiologist at the University of Arizona, said in an email to Gizmodo. “My goal is to compare the amino acids we find on Bennu to early life on Earth. I hope to answer this question: Did early life use building blocks delivered from outer space?”

Sample case (left) with inset image (right) showing asteroid dust.

Whether the samples indicate that the components of life processes came from space or perhaps came from Earth itself, Wehbe said: “I think what we find will radically change our view of how we think about life in a cosmic context.”

Bennu is named after an ancient Egyptian god associated with rebirth and is the living symbol of the god Osiris, who was himself brought back to life in Egyptian myth. It is a primitive asteroid, They date back to the first 10 million years or so For the existence of the solar system. As such, scientists believe the asteroid could hold secrets about what the early stages of the solar system’s formation might have looked like, as well as what primitive organic components — to borrow from an old cliche, “the building blocks of life” — might have existed on Earth’s surface. Rocky body.

But it’s not that simple. Bennu underwent some changes early in its existence, which means scientists will be able to see more than just the “building blocks” – they will be able to see the game plan that the evolving Bennu was following.

“This is kind of a fossil snapshot of some of the most primitive materials in the solar system,” Michael Wong, an astrobiologist at the Carnegie Science Center, said in a phone call with Gizmodo. “But a little time passed between its formation and its freezing and ceasing to develop as a planetary body.”

“Trying to understand how much chemical complexity occurred in that short snapshot of time between when Bennu formed and when Bennu froze and stopped evolving is really interesting to me because it shows you the power of a little bit of rock, a little bit of ice, and a little bit of material,” Wong added. Membership.

Whatever the chemical mixture, Benno can guide us to the ingredients. But the actual cooking instructions are just as important as the ingredients, and the asteroid’s short period of evolution may help us with that, too.

“The process of the origin of life is still a mystery to us, and I don’t think the answer lies in the precise identities of the molecules,” Wong said. That’s why the term “building blocks” kind of bothers me. It’s more about the processes that those molecules are excited to do together. Perhaps life processes can arise in very different sets of building blocks.

Today, they are samples of the asteroid Bennu Available for public viewing At the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. So, even if it takes some time to publish a rock analysis, you can think about the origins of life on Earth as soon as you want.

more: Pieces of asteroid Bennu land at the Smithsonian after a 200 million-mile journey

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