Space & Astronomy
Bennu may have come from an ancient ocean world, analysis suggests
By T.K. Randall
February 11, 2024 · 2 comments
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 Space.com
"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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