Pieces of the asteroid Bennu, brought back to Earth in September by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, include crumbly rocks and dust that contain water and carbon — some of the building blocks of life on Earth. NASA provided a first glimpse of the rocks, which are the largest asteroid sample ever returned to Earth, on 11 October.

The Bennu sample includes clay minerals with water trapped inside their crystal structures, bright and dark dust grains that look like flecks of salt and pepper and sulfur-rich minerals such as those that might play a key part in planetary evolution. “The pristine sample material from Bennu represents a valuable resource providing a window into the early Solar System,” says Eileen Stansbery, an astromaterials researcher at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and one of the leaders of the Bennu analysis.

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