cover image The Asteroid Hunter: A Scientist’s Journey to the Dawn of Our Solar System

The Asteroid Hunter: A Scientist’s Journey to the Dawn of Our Solar System

Dante Lauretta. Grand Central, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2294-7

In this stellar debut memoir, planetary scientist Lauretta details his work as the principal investigator for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, initiated in 2011 to retrieve an asteroid sample that arrived on Earth in September 2023. While working at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Lauretta discovered that schreibersite (a compound “ubiquitous in meteorites”) forms substances critical to life when dissolved in water, suggesting asteroids might hold “the key to understanding the origin of life on Earth.” Invigorated, Lauretta signed on to NASA’s mission to collect a sample from the asteroid Bennu. Recreations of planning sessions between engineers provide captivating insight into the hard work and ingenuity that went into the mission. (Lauretta explains that calculating Bennu’s weak orbit required his team to pioneer a novel way of determining an asteroid’s mass by measuring how much heat it emits.) The author is a talented storyteller, spinning a gripping narrative out of scientists’ efforts to overcome unforeseen obstacles under intense pressure (“Suddenly, I heard a brief gasp of surprise off to my right.... My mouth fell open as I glanced at the scene that appeared on [the] screen,” he writes of learning that “Bennu’s surface had just exploded” for poorly understood reasons). Armchair astronomers should consider this a must read. Photos. Agent: Lauren Sharp, Aevitas Creative Management. (Mar.)