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Diamond Light Source Prepares for In-Depth Analysis of Bennu Samples
A close up image of the sample of the Bennu asteroid being studied at Diamond Light Source
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Diamond Light Source Prepares for In-Depth Analysis of Bennu Samples
by Sophie Jenkins
London, UK (SPX) Dec 18, 2023

Diamond Light Source, the United Kingdom's national synchrotron science facility, is set to embark on a novel analysis of samples from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, using its unique Dual Imaging and Diffraction (DIAD) beamline. This analysis, involving scientists from the Natural History Museum, including Dr. Ashley King, aims to unlock secrets about the origins of our solar system and potentially the beginnings of life on Earth.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, a NASA-led endeavor launched in 2016, successfully retrieved samples from Bennu and returned them to Earth in September 2023. The mission's objective was to gather and examine materials from the asteroid, located about 330 million kilometers from our planet.

Dr. King, a seasoned planetary scientist, will spearhead the analysis at Diamond. He brings extensive experience in using synchrotron techniques for examining extraterrestrial samples. Leveraging the museum's comprehensive mineral and meteorite collections, the team plans to make detailed comparisons and calculations. Dr. King, who was among the first to inspect the samples at NASA's Johnson Space Center, noted their rich carbon content and water-laden minerals. Using DIAD's non-destructive testing capabilities, the team aims to confirm and expand upon these initial findings.

"Although this sample is small, only a little larger than a grain of sand, it is more than enough to reveal a lot of information about our solar system," said Dr. King. He emphasized the potential of asteroids like Bennu in contributing essential components to early Earth, possibly including water in our oceans and compounds vital for life's genesis.

DIAD's role in this research is pivotal. Dr. Sharif Ahmed, the Principal Beamline Scientist on DIAD, highlighted the instrument's unmatched ability to simultaneously measure chemical composition and 3D internal structure. Combining X-ray powder diffraction and X-ray computed tomography, DIAD extracts unique information, setting it apart from other instruments.

Prof. Gianluigi Botton, CEO of Diamond Light Source, expressed his enthusiasm about the project. "It is amazing to think that these samples have come all the way from the asteroid through a feat of engineering that got the OSIRIS-REx mission to be such a success," he stated. He further acknowledged the significance of the collaboration in accelerating our understanding of planetary formation and the origins of life, given that asteroids are considered the building blocks of our solar system.

The research outcomes are expected to be significant. The OSIRIS-REx teams aim to present their findings at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March 2024. Additionally, two major overview papers are anticipated to be published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science, contributing to the broader scientific understanding of these primordial celestial bodies.

This endeavor marks a fresh chapter in space exploration and research, showcasing the synergy between cutting-edge technology, like the DIAD beamline at Diamond, and the persistent quest to unravel the mysteries of our cosmic neighborhood.

Related Links
Dual Imaging And Diffraction (DIAD)
Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology

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