Four tablespoons worth of real estate from a nearby asteroid could help to explain how life began.
- A sample from a pristine asteroid may explain whether the chemistry for life on Earth exists in space.
- The targeted asteroid, RQ36, is a rare, carbon-rich rock.
- RQ36 is on the list of potentially dangerous asteroids, with a slim chance of striking Earth in 160 years.
Some of the answers to how life began on Earth may be sitting on the surface of an asteroid circling in our backyard.
The asteroid, known as RQ36, is no ordinary rock. Scientists believe it is covered in organic materials and relatively unchanged since its formation in the early days of the solar system.
That's the primary driver behind OSIRIS-Rex, an asteroid sample return mission that is one of three robotic space expeditions vying for NASA funds.
If selected, the spacecraft would fly to RQ36, survey it extensively, then ease down to the asteroid's surface to collect four tablespoons worth of real estate to return to Earth.
"If you want to know something about the origin of life -- whether the chemicals that were necessary for the evolution of life came from space -- this is a really good place to look," project scientist Joseph Nuth, with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., told Discovery News.