NASA’s Asteroid Sample under Analysis in Japan

NASA/Handout via Reuters
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that traveled to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and brought back a sample to Earth for study is seen in an undated NASA artist rendering.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — An asteroid sample collected by NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft is under analysis in Japan including comparisons with an asteroid sample collected in Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission, Jiji Press learned on Dec. 6.

A team of researchers including Hokkaido University Prof. Hisayoshi Yurimoto started studying sand grains from asteroid Bennu that were brought to Earth by the U.S. unmanned probe.

The team is also analyzing a sample from asteroid Ryugu brought by the Hayabusa2 explorer of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.

The Bennu and Ryugu samples will be compared with each other in an analysis that scientists hope will provide clues to the origins of life and water on Earth and how the asteroids formed.

Like Ryugu, Bennu orbits the sun between Earth and Mars and is categorized as a carbonaceous, or C-type, asteroid rich in carbon, water and organic materials. It is believed that C-type asteroids may have brought water and organic materials for life to ancient Earth.

NASA launched the Osiris-Rex probe in 2016 in a mission similar to two Hayabusa projects. Sand grains and other substances were collected from Bennu in 2020 and a capsule containing the samples landed on Earth in September this year.

The U.S. space agency asked Yurimoto, who has expertise in analyzing distributions of isotopes in samples through isotope microscopy, to examine the Bennu sample.

He received about 100 milligrams of the sample in November and began studying it at his university and Horiba Ltd., an analysis equipment maker based in Kyoto City.

According to Yurimoto, Bennu and Ryugu have things in common, but they also have many differences. The isotope analysis may make it possible to identify differences in what substances make up the asteroids as well as when and where the asteroids formed.

The team expects that it can make more accurate comparisons by analyzing both samples in the same laboratory using the same equipment.

“We don’t know anything about C-type asteroids yet,” Yurimoto said, stressing the significance of being able to make comparisons between asteroids in order to study how they differ.

NASA also has a deal with JAXA to exchange some of the Ryugu and Bennu samples. JAXA plans to receive Bennu samples early next year for analysis.

NASA/Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebersold/Handout via REUTERS
A view of the outside of the OSIRIS-REx sample collector, with sample material from the asteroid Bennu seen on the middle right at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, U.S. in a recent undated photograph.