NASA Probe Finds Traces of Water on Asteroid Bennu in Tantalizing Discovery


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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has only recently arrived at Asteroid Bennu and its already making incredible discoveries. 

Bennu, photographed by OSIRIS-REx on Dec. 2 Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

The space probe has recently reported that there’s water locked deep inside the asteroid, and mission specialists are excited as the spacecraft will have the ability to return samples back to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx traveled for more than 2 and a half years to reach its target. Now, NASA says that they have hit the jackpot and are happy they chose Bennu as their science mission target.

“Our initial data show that the team picked the right asteroid as the target of the OSIRIS-REx mission. We have not discovered any insurmountable issues at Bennu so far,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator.

“The spacecraft is healthy and the science instruments are working better than required. It is time now for our adventure to begin,” he added

OSIRIS-REx is NASA first-ever asteroid sample return mission. To arrive at its target, the spacecraft traveled an incredible 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km). 

NASA revealed the stunning discovery in a statement saying:

“Recently analyzed data from NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has revealed water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.”

Scientists explain that Bennu is too small to have had liquid water on its surface (according to what we know), however, the recent discovery tells us that there was liquid water present at some point on Bennu’s parent body, which is thought to have been a much larger cosmic body.

“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” explained Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

“When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”

As explained by mission specialists, data from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-RExThermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) have revealed traces of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, which are referred to as ‘hydroxyls.’  

Scientists believe that hydroxyl groups exist all around the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals. This means that the asteroid must have had contact with water at some point.

To understand more about the asteroid, OSIRIS-REx will orbit the asteroid for an entire year, before it will lower down towards its surface, close enough to use its mechanical arm and obtain samples of rock and dirt, in order to return them back to Earth for studies.


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