why the dust from this asteroid is so special to NASA

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[EN VIDÉO] Patrick Michel talks to us about asteroids The astrophysicist Patrick Michel, familiar with asteroids, tells us about these celestial objects that we encounter…

The day after the capsule returned to Earth Osiris-RexOsiris-Rexsamples of theasteroidasteroid Bennu were transferred to the Osiris-Rex Mission Preservation Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, where NASA keeps them in a clean room specifically designed for this purpose.

NASA has successfully brought back to Earth a treasure trove of extraterrestrial matter!

On October 11, NASA will hold a press conference to present the sample from the asteroid Bennu. In the meantime, it should provide information on the nature of Bennu dust recovered around the cylinder that contains the samples.

Reconstruct the history of the formation of Bennu and better understand that of the Solar System

As Patrick Michel, research director at the CNRS at the Côte d’Azur Observatory and co-investigator of the Osiris-Rex mission, explains to us, “ based on images of the sample capture, it is expected that at least 250 grams of material from the asteroid was recovered; a historic quantity because we have never brought back so much extraterrestrial material since the Apollo missions “.

Samples that cover a very wide time interval

The analysis of this material from Bennu “ will give us an insight into the oldest history of our Solar systemSolar systemeven before the planets were formed “. To understand this optimism, you must know that Bennu “ was not chosen at random “. He is a ” primitive and carbonaceous object, even if its history is complex, of which it is assumed that its composition has preserved the memory of the initial composition of the materialmaterial present when the Solar System was formed and from which the planets were formeds”. The analysis of its material aims to help us better understand “ how the Solar System formed, how the planets were born and how life emerged on Earth “.

This knowledge will be all the more refined and precise “ that we know the geological context in which the samples were recovered on Bennu, without the bias ofatmosphereatmosphere terrestrial which could have contaminated them as is the case, for example, with meteoritesmeteorites that we can recover on Earth, even if they also offer us extremely valuable information “.

Patrick Michel, from the Osiris-Rex mission, deciphers the first images and data from the asteroid Bennu

Better understand the emergence of life on Earth

Knowing that the asteroid Bennu contains organic matter and mineralsminerals hydrated, i.e. who have been in contact with water in the past ”, scientists will also be able to seek to “ understand what the role of asteroids could have been in theemergenceemergence of life on Earth “.

Understand the role of asteroids in the emergence of life on Earth

Finally, Patrick Michel hopes that Osiris-Rex was able to “ recover pre-solar grains, that is to say whose formation predates that of the Solar System and therefore this could tell us about the environment in which the Solar System was formed, some 4 years ago .5 billion years “.

100 milligrams of material donated to France

In a few weeks, scientists from partner countries of the mission will participate in the preliminary analysis of part of this material from Bennu. Concretely, several laboratories in the United States will receive “a little Bennu”, as well as Japan (0.5% of the total), Canada (4% of the total), but also France. Professor Guy Libourel, Professor at the University of Côte d’Azur at the Lagrange/CNRS Laboratory of the Côte d’Azur Observatory in Nice, coordinates the analysis of the 100 milligrams that NASA granted to France. Two laboratories located in Nice, in collaboration with a laboratory located in Sophia-Antipolis, and in Strasbourg will analyze these material samples. Germany will also contribute to these analyses. After that, there will be, by the end of 2024, an international call for tenders to redistribute them in order to carry out subsequent analyzes open to the entire scientific community.

To understand NASA’s decision to involve France in the study of Bennu samples, although we did not provide an instrument to the mission, you should know that we are at the forefront of research in the field of asteroids and in the analysis of extraterrestrial samples. In the case of Osiris-Rex, it is an instrument located at the CRHEA laboratory in Sophia Antipolis based on cathodoluminescence which will be used by Guy Libourel, whose expertise in cosmochism is recognized internationally, and the staff of this laboratory, allowing a mineralogical analysis specific to this technique. You should also know that Patrick Michel is a world reference. Principal investigator of the ESA Hera mission, he is also co-investigator of numerous international missions, including the Japanese missions Hayabusa 1 & Hayabusa 2 and MMX (Mars Moons ExplorerPhobos sample return).

Note that on this subject a press conference is planned in Nice at the beginning of November to present the samples allocated to France. We will come back to this.

World Asteroid Day: brief, non-exhaustive inventory of upcoming missions

Material for future generations

Not all of Bennu’s material will be distributed and studied in the coming years. NASA has decided to hermetically preserve 70% of what was harvested for future generations. As was the case with the samples from the Apollo missions, some of which were analyzed more than 40 years after returning to Earth in the 1970s. As Patrick Michel points out, it is a “ long-term investment, because future generations will have more sophisticated instruments allowing them to participate in these adventures by making further discoveries “.

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