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Origins Of Life On Earth: 4.5 Billion-Year-Old Asteroid Holds Clues

Origins Of Life On Earth: 4.5 Billion-Year-Old Asteroid Holds Clues

The sample of Bennu could hold clues for the origin of Earth.

A sample of asteroid dust, dating back to the formation of the solar system, has arrived at the Natural History Museum in London. The dust was collected by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which touched down on asteroid Bennu in 2020. Scientists hope to study the dust to learn more about the early history of our solar system.

According to The Guardian, the sample is just 100 milligrams, but it is incredibly valuable because it is untouched material from the asteroid. This means that it has not been contaminated by Earth’s atmosphere or by human hands.

Scientists will use a variety of techniques to study the dust, including electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction. They hope to find clues about the asteroid’s composition, formation, and history.

According to the UK’s Natural History Museum, orbiting the Sun roughly 120,000,000 kilometres away, this near-Earth asteroid is of intense interest to scientists for a number of reasons. For a start, it is thought to be an untouched time capsule from the beginning of the solar system, providing clues as to the origin of Earth and the life it supports. But it also has the potential to harm Earth, as it is considered to be the ‘most dangerous’ asteroid in the solar system.

Now an incredibly special sample of Bennu has made its way to the Natural History Museum.

A team of researchers will start studying the black, rocky powder in extraordinary detail. They will be exposing the extraterrestrial grains to a whole host of experiments and tests to vastly expand our knowledge of how asteroids like Bennu formed, what material they might contain, and fundamentally, whether they played any role in bringing the building blocks of life to Earth itself.

‘We’re really lucky,’ says Dr Ashley King, a meteorite researcher at the Natural History Museum, who will be part of the team studying the pieces of Bennu. ‘We’re one of the first people to get our hands on the Bennu samples.’

‘And here at the museum, we have a team of researchers that are going to start studying these samples to understand their mineralogy and chemical composition.’

This research promises to be thrilling as asteroid Bennu is believed to have originated from material that emerged during the solar system’s inception approximately 4.56 billion years ago.

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