Could Bennu or its parent have once supported life ? Image Credit: NASA / Lockheed Martin
The larger space rock from which Bennu was formed may have once had water flowing across its surface.
Measuring approximately 500 meters in diameter, Bennu has long been of interest to scientists because of its potential to teach us much about the earliest days of the solar system.
To this end, NASA launched the OSIRIS-REx mission which, having arrived at the asteroid in 2018, has since spent the last two years exploring the asteroid and recording as much data as possible.
Its ultimate mission will be to collect samples from the surface and return them to Earth for study.
In the meantime however, the data it has so far collected has revealed something particularly interesting - evidence that Bennu's parent asteroid may have once had flowing water.
Bennu is what is known as a 'rubble pile' asteroid because it was formed from the dust and debris produced when something smashed into a much larger asteroid.
This parent object, scientists now believe, was probably a few hundred kilometers across.
Not only does Bennu exhibit evidence of its parent's watery past, but it also appears to be coated in carbonates and organic molecules that are typically considered to be some of the precursors for life.
Even so, it seems unlikely that its parent asteroid would have been particularly habitable.
"You're in the vacuum of space, there's no atmosphere, you're looking at a lot of irradiation, it's cold - you wouldn't want to sit on the surface," said Hannah Kaplan at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland
"It's not a favorable environment per se, but it does have a lot of the factors that make a place technically habitable."
When OSIRIS-REx eventually succeeds in returning samples of Bennu back to Earth for study, it will be very interesting indeed to see what a detailed lab analysis will reveal.
Source: New Scientist | Comments (0)