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Space & Astronomy

Bennu may have come from an ancient ocean world, analysis suggests

By T.K. Randall
February 11, 2024 · Comment icon 2 comments
OSIRIS-REx sample collected from the asteroid Bennu.
The sample material collected from Bennu. Image Credit: NASA / Erika Blumenfeld and Joseph Aebersold
Scientists have started analyzing the material samples returned to Earth by the OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission.
Back in September 2016, NASA sent a spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, to rendez-vous with Bennu - a huge 500-meter-wide asteroid with the potential to strike the Earth sometime in the future.

After arriving there in 2018, it spent over two years investigating the asteroid and collecting sample material before heading back home. Following a further two-year journey through the solar system, it finally arrived back on Earth last year, much to the delight of NASA's science team.

Since then, scientists have been working to analyze the samples.

"We have over a 1,000 particles that are greater than half-a-millimeter, 28 particles that are greater than a centimeter, and the biggest particle is 3.5 centimeters," OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta told
"So a great collection full of really large stones."

While full details of what has been found so far will be revealed at a conference next month, there have been some hints at what secrets the samples might contain.

Back in October, there were indications that Bennu could contain the building blocks of life and now, according to the researchers, there are also indications of where it might have originated.

Of particular note is the fact that the samples have a phosphate crust more akin to something found on extraterrestrial ocean worlds than the typical meteorite fragments that have been analyzed before.

"Asteroid Bennu may be a fragment of an ancient ocean world," said Lauretta. "That's still highly speculative. But it's the best lead I have right now to explain the origin of that material."

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Razman 6 months ago
As long as they dont bring anything back that don't go well with earth life.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Abramelin 6 months ago
According to Wiki: "Bennu probably began in the inner asteroid belt as a fragment from a larger body with a diameter of 100 km.[103]" Not much of a 'world', unless there was once a real planet overthere.   "The current asteroid belt is believed to contain only a small fraction of the mass of the primordial belt. Computer simulations suggest that the original asteroid belt may have contained mass equivalent to the Earth's.[53] Primarily because of gravitational perturbations, most of the material was ejected from the belt within about 1 million years of formation, leaving behind less than 0.... [More]

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