back to article OSIRIS-REx probe sucked up more asteroid crumbs than hoped

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft snagged 121.6 grams of material from asteroid Bennu – the largest quantity ever retrieved by such a mission. NASA's goal was to collect at least 60 grams from Bennu. It had deemed that amount sufficient for the needs of its own scientists with some left over to share with others. Mission control …

  1. HuBo
    Alien

    On the waiting list for Spring cleaning

    Drives me mad that NASA is hogging that OSIRIS-REx interstellar vacuum cleaner like that. We've got lots of dust to vacuum-up here on Mars too you know!

    (P.S. Superb job by NASA's OSIRIS-REx astromaterials processors -- as seen in the linked gallery of images!)

    1. Brian 3

      Re: On the waiting list for Spring cleaning

      I think 33 Polyhymnia should be at the top of our list - it's too dense, seemingly more dense than the densest material we know of. It's basically made of unobtanium.

      1. cray74

        Re: On the waiting list for Spring cleaning

        It's basically made of unobtanium.

        Or measurementerrorium. The 2012 study by Benoit Carry not only produced a density of 75-ish grams per cubic centimeter for Polyhymnia, but also some extremely high values for other asteroids of similar size (e.g., 675 Ludmilla, which had a density of about 73 g/cc). Carry considered his results unreliable. While Polyhymnia has not passed other sizable asteroids for additional gravitational measurements, a 2019 reanalysis of Lydmilla's orbit showed its density was more likely about 4g/cc (in the range of 2-6g/cc).

  2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    So basically..

    Initial observations show that Bennu contains carbon-based compounds and hydrated minerals

    It's much the same as Subway bread. But can't wait to see the papers and conclusions. Sadly, I somehow doubt any unknown elements because physics and chemistry can spoil all the fun.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: So basically..

      I don't think my last Subway sandwich was that crunchy...

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: So basically..

        "I don't think my last Subway sandwich was that crunchy..."

        The last Subway sandwich I ate gave me food poisoning so it was the LAST one I'll ever eat. I'm pretty sure it also lacked crunch.

    2. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: So basically..

      According to Ireland's Supreme Court, Subway bread isn't actually bread

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This finding supports the hypothesis that cosmic collisions may have caused asteroids to bring the building blocks of life to Earth.

    The asteroids come from exactly the same place that Earth did, they don't get ejected from other life-harbouring planets. All we've ever found from meteors (and now asteroids) is that they contain amino acids, which we know from the Miller-Urey experiment can be created naturally on Earth.

    I wish people would stop giving undue credence to this hypothesis, it's not based on anything. It just punts the question of life's origins to "somewhere else".

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      I wish people would stop giving undue credence to this hypothesis, it's not based on anything. It just punts the question of life's origins to "somewhere else".

      But that's what science is all about. We come up with a hypothesis, then experiments to test it, and now we have evidence to help prove or disprove this. Some may have been ejected, most probably weren't. But if they came from the same place Earth did, I want to know our closest chemical/geological equivalent. So composition of this sample is just like dust and grit found in Canvey Island, Slough etc.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Science is about observation-based hypotheses, not filling in the blanks because you don't want to deal with the more difficult question. Having better data about the chemical composition of the solar system is great but we already knew that Earth was composed of the same material as the asteroids. My only problem isn't that the idea exists, just that it's given credibility based on nothing but conjecture.

        The idea is that life actually developed on Mars but was blown off by a collision (for which there's also no actual evidence) after it had already cooled for a long enough time for life to have developed. The problem is, that isn't any better than the time needed for life to have developed on Earth, Mars is about the same age. Life is estimated to have developed on Earth about 500 million years after it formed, so life would have needed to develop between the time Mars' surface solidified and 4 billion years ago, which is the same time as on Earth after the Moon was formed. So the hypothesis is pointless, it doesn't add anything to how life developed and it doesn't even address theoretical issues with the time needed for life to develop.

        1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

          I think you are confused. My understanding is that this project makes no claims about life - even amino acids.

          Initial observations show that Bennu contains carbon-based compounds and hydrated minerals – sources of organic materials and water. This finding supports the hypothesis that asteroids may have brought the building blocks of life to Earth

          I understood this comment to just be about the amount of water and carbon on Earth. Not any claim life (or even amino acids) developed somewhere else and were brought to Earth. Just that Earth has more water and carbon than would be expected for a planet this close to the Sun so this helps the theory that the extra water and carbon were brought from further out in the solar system on asteroids and comets.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            The organic materials are the amino acids (and peptides but I doubt they were found), that's what organic means in a chemical context - carbon-based. I wasn't referring to the OSIRIS mission itself though, I'm specifically referring to that second part which is the pop science part. The "building blocks of life" are the amino acids, but as I said before, we already know Earth's early atmosphere could create those in huge quantities. That's the thing with hypotheses like this, they get promoted in the media and by scientist personalities like Bill Nye and Brian Cox despite a lack of scientific basis and distort the public's understanding on science's position on the origin of life. That's why it annoys me, not whether they get tested by these observations.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              That's the thing with hypotheses like this, they get promoted in the media and by scientist personalities like Bill Nye and Brian Cox despite a lack of scientific basis and distort the public's understanding on science's position on the origin of life. That's why it annoys me, not whether they get tested by these observations.

              My comment was more about whether asteroids could have been formed from planetary collisions. I think that's possible, and probable. So kind of going back to the 'big bang', stuff cooling, condensing, agglomerating and after playing cosmic pinball for long enough, the biggest chunks forming stars and planets.

              But being an SF fan, I also kind of like the idea of Panspermia, I'm not convinced it's true. As you say, we can create life without the need for external influences, but I just think we have a hard time grasping the idea that we can evolve all of it from a simple chemical soup.. Even though that's possible. Maybe there were some 'nudges', but there's no evidence as yet. Maybe projects like this will find those 'Aha!' moments. Or 'This is weird' and 'it's moving'. But also unlikely.

              Then maybe we'll come closer to solving the Fermi Paradox. If we can evolve and exist spontaneously, why hasn't anyone/thing else? Personally I think that's again a problem of scale and timescales. Being a comms person, look at the very brief time we've gone from radio broadcasts to more directional broadcasts or fibre. That's a very brief window to detect anything else, if they've followed the same evolutionary path. So maybe we'll just have to wait for interstellar explorers to find ancient ruins, and zenoarchaelogists to decide they were all religious buildings.

              It's still fun for me to follow along with the research.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                I'm not really convinced that the Fermi paradox is a paradox. Everything in the solar system is more abundant everywhere else (including life according to the Fermi paradox), so there's no particular reason to expect that other civilizations would have any interest in traveling in our direction.

                As for our ability to detect life elsewhere, we don't have very good instruments for that. We can't take very good pictures of the planets at a resolution necessary to discern human-relatable features like mountains from Earth's position and our ability to photograph other individual solar systems is mostly limited to brightness levels.

                1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                  "We can't take very good pictures of the planets at a resolution necessary to discern human-relatable features like mountains from Earth's position and our ability to photograph other individual solar systems is mostly limited to brightness levels."

                  We are only going to detect other life in the galaxy if it broadcasts and we are looking the right way at the right time. We aren't going to see anything. Jellied brings up a good point about how fast Earth is going from high power radio to low-power local broadcasting, cable/optic and satellite comms. If you visit any of the NASA Deep Space Network facilities, they dishes they need to pick up the low power signals from the Voyager spacecraft are huge. I think Arecibo was the largest radio dish with no other single dish system anywhere near its size. Whether it could detect a non-directed signal coming from a few tens of light years away at a power level another civilization might use is debatable. Most radio telescopes can only pick up stellar level events.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    My interest wouldn't really be in hunting for alien signals, that's kinda pointless when they could be coming from any millimetre of the sky. It would only really be practical to study the nearby Earth-like planets, though as you said with Arecibo it would require a colossal dish and an adjustable focal length of kilometres. Arecibo had a fixed length of only 130 metres because it was just meant to be a wide angle lens, not designed to look at any one thing in particular. We've gotten good results from array telescopes though, maybe we could do it with a cluster of satellites. It's not like we need to be able to see cities, just plant life. We've only really had structures that could be seen from ISS levels of resolution for a few centuries.

                  2. Alan Brown Silver badge

                    "I think Arecibo was the largest radio dish with no other single dish system anywhere near its size"

                    There's a larger one in China - but it's strictly receive-only

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          "life would have needed to develop between the time Mars' surface solidified and 4 billion years ago"

          There was liquid water on Mars surface for a brief period - and presumably enough of an insulating layer of gas to retain the sun's heat (bearing in mind that the sun was 20-30% dimmer than today).

          It's hard enough to find protolife fossils on Earth, let alone with the limited resources available to exploration robots and some wild-ass guesswork about where it might have been on Mars. This is likely to remain a mystery for a long time

    2. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: It just punts the question of life's origins to "somewhere else".

      Magrathea?

      -A.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      I wouldn't argue that amino acids are "life", however it's certainly possible that having the building blocks premade in space speeds up initial development of it on suitable planets

      It will be interesting to see what we find preserved out in the Oort cloud, in the very distant future

  4. Winkypop Silver badge
    Joke

    The rock and dust, the scientists can explain

    But the carrot tops and the Pismo Beach hat might take a while longer…

  5. PRR Silver badge
    Alien

    Fantastic snatch. THIS DUST CAME FROM ANOTHER PLANET!!!

    But.... 20 years ago any half competent web-worker could make an image "gallery" with NEXT buttons, instead of going BACK to the gallery to get another image. Or does this one do that and they hid the Next buttons too good for my eyes?

  6. Anonymous IV
    Unhappy

    There might be an interesting comparison...

    ... between the cost per g or ml of the asteroid dust and that of HP's inkjet printer ink.

    1. richardcox13

      Re: There might be an interesting comparison...

      Please don't give the inkjet markers ideas on pricing!

      1. captain veg Silver badge

        Re: There might be an interesting comparison...

        > Please don't give the inkjet markers ideas on pricing!

        They don't make it. It's milked from unicorns.

        -A.

  7. Chris Coles

    A Steady State Universe, trillions of years in age

    if, instead of a big bang, we live within a steady state universe, trillions of years old; then surely there will be particles of matter, of all forms and origins; which thus will allow the spread of life throughout the universe. That everywhere we might in future visit, we will find similar life forms to our own here on Earth? Food for thought?

    1. Lyndication

      Re: A Steady State Universe, trillions of years in age

      All evidence points to the universe not being Steady State, and we know the age of the universe because the distance we can detect light from is directly tied to it.

      A trillions of year old universe would allow us to see much further.

  8. Captain Boing

    Brings a whole new meaning ...

    ... to "A quarter of space dust please, mister"

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