TechBennu asteroid's baffling samples: Scientists perplexed by alien particles with 'cauliflower texture'

Bennu asteroid's baffling samples: Scientists perplexed by alien particles with 'cauliflower texture'

View from the OSIRIS-REx probe. A sample of material from the asteroid Bennu is visible in the middle on the right.
View from the OSIRIS-REx probe. A sample of material from the asteroid Bennu is visible in the middle on the right.
Images source: © NASA | Erika Blumenfeld i Joseph Aebersold

12:41 PM EST, December 15, 2023

The asteroid Bennu was the focus of NASA's OSIRIS-REx space mission, launched on September 8, 2016, under the New Frontiers program. The expectation was that OSIRIS-REx would help reveal clues about the formation of life on Earth. In 2020, fragments of the asteroid, approximately 8.8 ounces, were collected. The sample-containing capsule landed back on Earth two months ago, and on Monday, December 11, scientists revealed the first detailed description of the alien substances contained within.

NASA permitted scientists from the US, Canada, and Japan to carry out studies on these samples, with the US researchers receiving the majority of the material. Remarkably, about three-quarters of the samples have been preserved unscathed for future generations of scientists to examine.

All the investigated particles are very dark in color and comprise centimeter and millimeter-sized "rough boulders". According to scientists, these particles have a texture akin to cauliflower and adhere to any surfaces they come into contact with. For the most part, their composition is consistent with scientists' expectations.

"We certainly have hydrated, organic-rich remnants from the early solar system, which is exactly what we were hoping for," stated Dante Lauretta, the mission's lead investigator, while speaking at the American Geophysical Union conference.

Contradictorily, these samples supplied to Earth also contain considerable amounts of magnesium, sodium, and phosphorus. This has confounded the team of scientists.

"I've been studying meteorites for quite some time, and I have never encountered anything like this," commented Lauretta.

The conclusions that scientists are making concerning asteroid Bennu could be highly important as it is considered a potential threat to Earth.

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