A NASA researcher visited the CIBION

The researcher explained which are the steps when the samples from the asteroid Bennu reach Earth.

Eric Parker, an astrochemist who works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, traveled to Argentina to give a special seminar at the Bionanoscience Research Center (CIBION).

Invited by Dr. María Eugenia Monge, researcher in charge of the Mass Spectrometry laboratory of this institute, the NASA scientist visited CIBION between August 8 and 9. During those two days he gave a seminar, which was also attended by members of other research centers.

The title of Parker's seminar was “searching for signs of life on the asteroid Bennu.” The scientist explained that in 2016, NASA sent the “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx)” spacecraft to the asteroid Bennu. The purpose of this research was to collect material from the surface of the aforementioned celestial body and then return to Earth for study.

The spacecraft arrived at its destination in 2018 and conducted observations for more than a year. Parker said that “the surface of the asteroid is very different than expected.” In fact, the asteroid Bennu is covered by rocks that “posed logistical challenges associated with collecting samples.” Finally, and despite the challenges, more than 60 grams of materials were collected. In 2021, the spacecraft began its return journey with samples from the asteroid Bennu. They are expected to arrive in September of this year.

Parker summarized what will happen when the collected objects enter Earth: “We will focus on exploring the diversity, abundance and distribution of organic molecules important for life contained in the asteroid Bennu. These include species such as amino acids, the building blocks of life, and peptides, which help form proteins. “We will employ a suite of gas chromatography and liquid chromatography techniques coupled to a variety of mass spectrometers to sensitively and selectively identify prebiotic organic compounds”.

The next day, Parker spoke with a group of high school students who attended vocational training sessions at the institute. For almost 90 minutes, the teenagers asked him questions about his work, while the scientist asked the young people what they would like to do in the future.

Finally, the NASA researcher met with CIBION fellows. In that space, Parker listened to each of the research projects in which the young scientists are immersed, thus taking advantage of the opportunity to carry out academic exchanges.