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[WATCH] Collecting samples from ancient asteroid Bennu - and why this matters

23 October 2020 9:46 AM
Tags:
NASA
life
Asteroid Bennu
Osiris-Rex

Instrumentation Scientist and Astronomer Dr Nicolas Erasmus at the SA Astronomical Observatory explains the significance of this event.

This is the OSIRIS-REx mission’s Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event from the ancient asteroid, Bennu.

The images show a NASA spacecraft approaching and touching down on Asteroid Bennu’s surface, over 321 million km away from Earth.

America's Osiris-Rex spacecraft has successfully made contact with a 500metre asteroid with its main mission being to collect around 60grams from the surface so that the composition can be analysed.

John Maytham speaks to Dr Nicolas Erasmus, Instrumentation Scientist and Astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory to understand the significance of this event.

The size of the asteroid and the speed at which it is travelling, its distance from Earth, all make this mission to land and take samples even more impressive.

what makes it a bit easier is that Bennu is a near-Earth asteroid...it is not always close to us but it is in our orbital neighbourhood.

Dr Nicolas Erasmus, Instrumentation Scientist and Astronomer - South African Astronomical Observatory

Why is a sample from Benni significant?

Erasmus explains that Bennu is part of a group of carbonaceous asteroids.

The rock and dust of Bennu contain carbon-rich organic compounds and these compounds are really what the scientists are after. And the reason for that is that these compounds are thought to be the building blocks...they can jumpstart microbial life.

Dr Nicolas Erasmus, Instrumentation Scientist and Astronomer - South African Astronomical Observatory

At least, that was with the conditions believed to have existed 2 billion years ago on Earth, he elaborates.

It is a combination of the correct molecules and the right environment that is needed to kickstart life, he notes

Spectrometers from Earth have established that these molecules exist on Bennu, but you never really know for sure until you get the sample - and that's exactly why they have done this mission.

Dr Nicolas Erasmus, Instrumentation Scientist and Astronomer - South African Astronomical Observatory

It will only land back on Earth in 2023.

What they are basically trying to figure out is what type of molecules were floating around in the solar system during the time when we think life originated.

Dr Nicolas Erasmus, Instrumentation Scientist and Astronomer - South African Astronomical Observatory

Bennu is a pristine example and so is an ideal sample to study.

Listen to the interview below:

Watch sample connection on Asteroid Bennu below:

Watch the tour of Asteroid Bennu below:


23 October 2020 9:46 AM
Tags:
NASA
life
Asteroid Bennu
Osiris-Rex

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