Samples from asteroid Bennu “an astrobiologist’s dream”

Popular Science raves about the carbon, oxygen, and other life-sustaining material NASA scientists have found in samples retrieved from the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu:

And now those pristine materials sit in an airtight vessel in a clean room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where researchers like University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta are getting their first chance to study the sample up close.

“The electron microscopes were fired up and ready” by September 27, Lauretta said in a news conference. “And boy did we really nail it.” (Lauretta, the principal investigator, gave the mission its name, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.) The preliminary investigation of a tiny fraction of the sample revealed it is rich in water, carbon, and organic compounds.

The Bennu sample contained about 4.7 percent carbon, as measured by the Carnegie Institution for Science, according to Daniel Glavin, the OSIRIS-REx sample analysis lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. This is “the highest abundance of carbon” the Carnegie team has measured in an extraterrestrial sample, Glavin said. “There were scientists on the team going ‘Wow, oh my God!’ And when a scientist says that ‘Wow;’ that’s a big deal.”

The Bennu sample is also flush with organic compounds, too, which glowed like tiny stars within the dark sample when exposed to a black light. “We picked the right asteroid—and not only that, we brought back the right sample,” Glavin said. “This stuff is an astrobiologist’s dream.”