Interesting news from outer space

You know we sent a probe, OSIRIS-REx (ugh, it’s a contrive acronym — I hate the name), to an asteroid name Bennu (better), and it has returned to Earth with a load of debris. It’s a big deal to crack this probe open, because they really want to avoid contamination, and we won’t see the results of a thorough analysis for a while yet, but NASA has examined the stuff outside the main container, and it’s promising.

So what’s the big deal about recovering pristine samples from the surface of an asteroid? The big deal is that Bennu, an asteroid in a near-Earth orbit that is about one-half kilometer across, is believed to be a time capsule for the types of rocks and chemicals that existed when the planets formed in our Solar System more than 4 billion years ago. By studying Bennu, scientists are looking back to that primordial era when Earth began transitioning from an extremely hot world with a hellish surface environment into something more like a mud ball.

Poking these pebbles and rocks with sophisticated equipment here on Earth may allow Lauretta and the other scientists to answer questions about how terrestrial planets like Earth and Mars formed and possibly whether asteroids seeded Earth with the building blocks for life.

In a preliminary analysis of some of the dust, Lauretta said scientists hit the jackpot with a sample that is nearly 5 percent carbon by mass and has abundant water in the form of hydrated clay minerals. It is highly plausible that asteroids like this delivered the vast majority of the water now found in Earth’s oceans, lakes, and rivers billions of years ago.

By piecing together clues from the asteroid dust—both its water and organic molecules—the scientists believe they may better understand how Earth went from an uninhabited mudball to the world teeming with life today.

“This is incredible material,” said Daniel Glavin, a co-investigator on the mission. “It’s loaded with organics. If we’re looking for biologically essential organic molecules, we picked the right asteroid, and we brought back the right sample. This is an astrobiologist’s dream.”

Cool, but not at all surprising. This is what we’d expected — we already knew space was full of organic molecules, this isn’t the 19th century when vitalism and the belief that organic chemistry could only be perpetrated by living organisms.

I look forward to the results, but I predict that they will find…amino acids, nucleotides, simple sugars, etc. All the basics you need to make an apple pie. The universe provides.


  1. StevoR says

    The truth may or may not be out there but it seems the biochemical ingrediants for life sure are!

  2. StevoR says

    OSIRIS-REx (ugh, it’s a contrive acronym — I hate the name),

    Agreed, its so painfully a stretch they might’ve well racked it. If they want to call it ‘Osiris” aluuding tothe Egyptian god they should just call it that without the awkward & ugly contrivance.

    Meanwhile in other tangential space rock news did you hear that the leats -creatuionist friendly name~wise spaceprobe ever Lucy after the renowned fossil* just flew past a wonderfully Ethiopian named asteroid called Dinkinesh (“Dinky” for short) that was first thought to be one small asteroid but then turned out to be two and then with a changing angle actually three?

    This is a mission that seems to have gone rather under the radar in media / public attention but one I’ve found quite impressive and somehow personally appealing and not bad for a first encounter and set of science results. Another tiny, unknown point of light in space that we knew next to nothing about before turned real, rugged, fascinating, surprising, curious place.

    See :


    .* See :

  3. wzrd1 says

    Well, an apple pie with tons of cyanide compounds, although after impact, it’s unlikely that such compounds would remain unreacted with the local chemistry.
    Of course, on primordial earth, everything was toxic to the life the exists now and for the earliest life, our atmosphere is incredibly toxic.
    One wonders what the environment will be like in another billion years, other than a hell of a lot hotter as solar output increases by 10%. Well, assuming we don’t pyroform the the planet into Venus mkII.

  4. wzrd1 says

    StevoR @ 2, I saw it. It made a brief splash in headline news – very brief.
    I was surprised to see a contact binary having a stable enough orbit for the orbit to persist. Assuming anything like equivalent density and hence mass, that orbit should be chaotic as hell.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Wzrd1 @ 4
    Fun fact – The first photosynthesis may have been in different wavelengths. Chlorofyll had to make do with the light not absorbed by earlier rivals, so the first algae may have been purple-ish.
    We only got a dominance of green algae when the first generation of photosyntheic organisms were replaced.
    The early oceans were full of dissolved iron. And stayed that way until so.much oxygen had been produced that all the iron became iron oxide deposits on the sea floors.
    That was halfway through the Earth’s ‘lifespan’… and most continental land were created during the proterozoic, surprisingly late.

    Several big glaciations, very little oxygen until shortly before Cambrium.

    I am reminded of what the character played by Ron Perlman said in the last real Alien film: “Earth – what a shithole”.

  6. mordred says

    birgerjohansson@6 Some panspermian UFO believers seem to believe that the Aliens seeded life on earth, than waited for about 4 billion years before creating us (by genetically engineering a bunch of apes or even breeding with them) and are still around manipulating our society.

    These alien guys sure are patient!

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Mordred @ 7
    Yes. They think the bad Alien prequels are documentaries.

    My favv kooks are the ones who say alien abductions are real, but done by demons masquerading as aliens.

    (They make the world-building of the world’s worst anime- Chargeman Ken – look brilliant. Even the episode “Dynamite in the Brain” is more cerebral than these UFO believers)

  8. mordred says

    birgerjohansson@8 Never heard of that anime. Definitely have to take a look as the world’s worst anime – thanks for the tip.

    I’ve long found the parallels between the stories about aliens, demons, fairies etc. quite interesting. It seems humans have always experienced certain things and interpreted them according to their culture’s stories. Most likely, these experiences simply come from the way our brain works (sleep paralysis, trying to make sense of vague shapes seen in the darkness..), but if someone could offer me actual proof that there is something out there, I’d be willing to change my mind (not holding my breath, though). Personally I’d prefer fairies to aliens ;-).

  9. birgerjohansson says

    The two groups of trojan asteroids may have formed at different regions around the sun before they followed Jupiter inwards. It will be very interesting to get detailed knowledge of what they are made of.
    There are also numerous asteroids that have chaotic orbits around Jupiter (becoming moonlets), maybe some of them are former main belt objects that have been captured. Maybe one or two may even be centaurs that have wandered in from beyond Saturn.
    Osiris does not have the fuel to visit these non-trojan objects, I hope some day they send a probe with an ion engine to make a “grand tour” of as many of these objects as possible.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    StevoR @ 2

    The contact binary moonlet is clearly not a ‘rubble pile’ asteroid. That makes it interesting. We can get an idea of how small/large fragments became during whatever event that created Dinkinesh.
    Clearly not a primeval object, but a fragment of a large body that once formed a solid crust after partial melting .
    If you wonder what could melt an asteroid relatively far from the sun, the answer is “a rapidly decaying aluminum isotope”. So the solar nebula, and the first planetoids must have formed even more rapidly.

  11. stuffin says

    Seems every discovery in space, be it through telescopes, samples or whatever means produces a life outside earth possibility. The infrared radiotonic oscillating spectroscope found carbon molecules on a planet 4 billion light years from earth, this could mean there is life there. Or they found oxygen and hydrogen next to each other so there could be water. The basic atoms and molecules need for life are imbedded throughout the universe. Please call me when you find a walking talking reproducing being.

  12. wzrd1 says

    birgerjohansson @ 6, I remember catching a video discussing the paper. Sounds quite likely, given the chemistry that predominated early earth.

    mordred @ 7, of course the Monoliths are patient, they are machines. ;)

  13. JimB says

    Have they managed to open the capsule yet?

    Just googled it but all I can found are articles about the problems opening it.

    And results we are seeing now are from the 70 grams of dust that were on the capsule.

  14. StevoR says

    @ ^ JimB : I was going to say, yes, they’ve managed to open it – see the Opening Post here and there’s this :

    Which you’ve probly seen yourself among other articles but then, .. Hhmm..

    It’s a big deal to crack this probe open, because they really want to avoid contamination, and we won’t see the results of a thorough analysis for a while yet, but NASA has examined the stuff outside the main container,.. – PZ Myers, here above


    OSIRIS-REx’s asteroid-sample canister just creaked open for the first time in more than seven years.

    Scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston lifted the canister’s outer lid on Tuesday (Sept. 26)..

    Emphasis added.

    So okay, Looks like they haven’t opened the main / inner sample container yet and are taking it extremely slowly and carefully even more so than I’d previously thought. I’m not 100% sure now but you seem to be correct there. Wonder when they will and how much longer it might take?

  15. wzrd1 says

    As of October 20, they’ve opened the sample head and removed the sample – after having two screws get stuck and were unable to remove them with the pre-approved tools allowed inside of the glove box.
    Some nice images in the archives of the team working in the glove box, as well as some images of the samples themselves.
    Knowing NASA, it probably took at least a week of meetings to consider all options, to avoid contamination of any of the sample. They learned a couple of extremely hard lessons about rushing things and not considering problems in depth, with serious losses of crews.

  16. StevoR says

    @ ^ wzrd1 : Thanks.

    If they want to call it ‘Osiris” aluuding tothe Egyptian god they should just call it that without the awkward & ugly contrivance.

    I wonder if NASA feared there might be XN pushback on naming a spacecraft after an Egyptian God including using the latin word for king after it and that’s what led to using the contrived acroynm? Probly not but..