FILE PHOTO: This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on December 2, 2018 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km). NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS: THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY/File Photo
New Delhi,UPDATED: February 12, 2024 12:24 IST
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which brought a trove of asteroid samples to Earth, is providing groundbreaking information about the early solar system and the origins of life.
The fragments of the asteroid Bennu, which arrived at Earth in September 2023 after a seven-year, 6.21 billion kilometer journey, are believed to come from an ancient ocean world.
This hypothesis is supported by the presence of a unique phosphate mineral crust, rich in calcium and magnesium, on the asteroid, similar to that found on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
The chemistry of this mineral suggests that Bennu may share characteristics with Enceladus, including the potential to host life. The discovery of phosphate, a vital component for life, lends credence to the theory that life on Earth could have been seeded by asteroid impacts during the planet’s formative years.
Scientists speculate that Bennu was once part of a larger celestial body, about half the size of Enceladus, that was destroyed in a colossal collision, resulting in the creation of numerous asteroids.
The analysis of the Bennu samples is a unique and exciting opportunity for researchers, as it marks only the third case in history in which asteroid fragments have been successfully returned for study.
University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta expressed excitement about the vast research possibilities, saying, “We’ll be busy for a long, long time.” The university team is meticulously examining thousands of particles, some of them up to 3.5 centimeters in diameter.
Advanced techniques such as X-ray diffraction are being used to delve deeper into the composition of these ancient space rocks.
The goal is to unravel the mysteries of Bennu’s origins and, by extension, better understand the formation of the solar system approximately 4.5 billion years ago.