Scientists have made a fascinating discovery on asteroid Bennu thanks to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.
Recently analyzed data from the probe has identified water locked inside the asteroid’s clay, the space agency has announced. The spacecraft’s two spectrometers revealed the presence of “hydroxyls,” which are molecules containing oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together.
“While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid,” said NASA in a statement.
The asteroid may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to the space agency.
“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,” said Amy Simon, OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) deputy instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in the statement. “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.”
OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, reached its orbit at asteroid Bennu last week after traveling more than 1 billion miles through space. It launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The spacecraft will spend almost a year surveying the space rock from orbit. The probe is scheduled to briefly touch the asteroid with a robotic arm in July 2020 and retrieve a sample that will be returned to Earth in September 2023.
This is a busy time for NASA. The space agency’s InSight lander landed successfully on the surface of Mars last month, ending a journey that lasted six months and completed more than 300 million miles. The space agency recently released the first-ever audio recording from the surface of the Red Planet.
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