Samples of asteroid Bennu are now undergoing intensive study at the University of Arizona and other labs.
(Image credit: Chris Richards/University of Arizona Communications)


Initial analyses of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission is rippling through the scientific community.

In the early morning hours of September 24, 2023, NASA’s first sample return mission of bits and pieces of asteroid Bennu successfully parachuted into the Department of Defense Dugway Proving Ground in the Utah Test and Training Range, roughly 80 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah.

OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule is seen shortly after touching down in the desert, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. The sample was collected from the asteroid Bennu in October 2020 by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.
Image credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

That extraterrestrial freight from afar came capsule-contained courtesy of the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission.

A preliminary truth-be-told scientific look at the asteroid specimens is just out within the pages of The Meteoritical Society’s journal, Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

The opened science canister in the glovebox at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The cylindrical Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head is positioned in the center of the avionics deck. Dark particles and dust can be seen on the avionics deck, the top of TAGSAM (including on circular witness plates), and the inside of the canister’s lid.
Image credit: NASA/ASU


Question-raising regolith

“The distinct hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen isotopic compositions of Bennu’s regolith raise questions about its formation and evolution,” reports a team led by OSIRIS-REx lead investigator, Dante Lauretta of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“Further investigation into these isotopic signatures could provide valuable insights into the history of Bennu and its parent body,” Lauretta and colleagues report.

Examples of inspected samples.
Image credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Examples of boulder types on Bennu.
Image credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

First-look findings

“Our first-look findings highlight the importance of sample return missions in unraveling the geological and geochemical intricacies of asteroids like Bennu—whose low-density materials are probably underrepresented in the meteorite record—and their implications for the formation and evolution of the solar system,” the researchers add.










Nonetheless, the data gained by initial looks, “are only the tip of the iceberg,” Lauretta and colleagues explain. “There is likely more about the sample that we do not know than we do know.”

Major surprise

Taking her look at the new report is Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

“Simply awesome,” Cabrol says in an X posting.

One major surprise Cabrol adds: “Bennu contains minerals similar to those found at the mid-Atlantic ridge on Earth, indicating that this little asteroid was once part of a bigger, water-rich world.”

Go to The Meteoritical Society’s journal, Meteoritics & Planetary Science to access — “Asteroid (101955) Bennu in the laboratory: Properties of the sample collected by OSIRIS-REx” — at:

Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx’s principal investigator from the University of Arizona holds a mock up of the asteroid collection device – TAGSAM.
Image credit: Barbara David

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