VIDEO: Analyzing an asteroid in the new golden age of sample return

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Carnegie researchers played a key role in early analysis of material returned from asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx mission.
A view of the outside of the OSIRIS-REx sample collector. Sample material from asteroid Bennu can be seen on the middle right. Scientists have found evidence of both carbon and water in initial analysis of this material. The bulk of the sample is located inside. Photo: NASA/Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebersold

In October, NASA announced the findings of its initial studies of material returned to Earth from the 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx mission.

As the global scientific enterprise enters a new "golden age" of sample return, researchers will unlock a new understanding of our Solar System's history and the origins of the building blocks that allowed life to arise and thrive on Earth. The early analysis of Bennu samples showed evidence of high carbon content and water, which Carnegie scientists played a key role in elucidating. 

"The first carbon measurement was made at the Carnegie Institution for Science,” the mission’s sample analysis lead Daniel Glavin said at the NASA press conference. “At the time this data came back, I mean, there were scientists on the team going, ‘wow, oh my God!’ … When a scientist says, ‘wow’ that's a big deal. So, we were excited right away. In fact, Carnegie said that, for the extraterrestrial samples they've analyzed, this is the highest abundance of carbon they've ever measured, in any extraterrestrial sample, and they've analyzed close to 250 meteorites, so this is a unique sample that we're dealing with."

Learn about the OSIRIS-REx work and the importance of sample return research from Carnegie's Conel Alexander and Dionysis Foustoukos. 

Learn about Carnegie scientists' work on the samples returned to Earth from asteroid Bennu.