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Was asteroid Bennu part of an ancient ocean world?

Was asteroid Bennu part of an ancient ocean world?

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Material from the asteroid Bennu is now being examined on Earth, and the composition of the rock prompts researchers to speculate.

TUCSON, Ariz. – In September 2023, NASA's OSIRIS-REx space probe delivered precious cargo to Earth: material from an extraterrestrial celestial body. The probe previously visited the dangerous asteroid “Bennu” and collected materials there of special importance to science. Asteroids are relics from the early days of the solar system and can provide valuable information about that era. It is also debated whether it is the source of water or even the basis of life on Earth.

Pino (1999 RQ₃)
Apollo asteroid
September 11, 1999
437 days
0.492 km
566m x 542m x 499m

NASA brings samples of the dangerous asteroid “Bennu” to Earth

The first samples of Osiris-Rex were distributed to scientific institutions last year, including one in Frankfurt. However, NASA was only recently able to access most of the material after it was able to unscrew two stuck screws using special tools. Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator on the Osiris-Rex mission, was able to examine the material in a laboratory at the University of Arizona.

“We're going to be busy for a very long time,” says the scientist. On the gate Space.com website. “That's a huge amount of samples for us.” The first results will be presented by various research teams at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas next month. According to Lauretta, more than 70 abstracts of scientific findings have already been submitted to the conference. “All this will be published from March,” the scientist said.

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A container containing a sample of asteroid Bennu debris. NASA tried to open the container for weeks. © Erika Blumenfeld and Joseph Ebbers/NASA Johnson Space Center, ARES/dpa

Traces of water and carbon have been found in materials from the asteroid Bennu.

It is already known that traces of water and carbon – essential elements for life on Earth – have been found in the asteroid material. Another discovery that's already got the scientific community excited: The asteroid's material “looks dramatically different from anything else in our meteor collection,” says Loretta. “There is a whole range of materials that we cannot access if we rely solely on meteorites,” he adds.

The problem with meteorites is that they fall through the Earth's atmosphere and become hot as they fall. This changes their material, and it is often difficult to determine which asteroid they came from. However, this was not a problem for meteorites recently collected near Berlin.

Materials directly from asteroids are important for research

Material taken directly from an asteroid in space offers crucial scientific advantages: it can be packaged in an atmosphere that changes the material only minimally. So science has access to original materials from the early days of the solar system. In addition, the asteroid mission is easy.

The sample container containing the material from the asteroid Bennu is housed in a so-called “glove box” and surrounded by nitrogen.  It can only be opened in this chest.  (archive photo)
The sample container containing the material from the asteroid Bennu is in a so-called “glove box” and surrounded by nitrogen. It can only be opened in this chest. (Archive photo) © IMAGO/Cover Images

Loretta says that the samples taken from Bennu show a phosphate layer that has not been observed in meteorites before. According to the scientist, similar high concentrations of phosphate have already been discovered on extraterrestrial ocean worlds. For example, Saturn's moon Enceladus contains phosphate, an important building block for life. Loretta believes that “asteroid Bennu may be part of an ancient ocean world.” This is his working hypothesis, Explains to new world. “This is still highly speculative. But this is the best evidence I have at the moment to explain the origin of this material.” (unpaid bill)

The editor wrote this article and then used an AI language model to improve at her own discretion. All information has been carefully checked. Find out more about our AI principles here.