NASA scientists are just beginning to analyze fragments brought back from benu asteroidand the first indications are that the material it contains originated on an ancient ocean world.
This assumption is based on the phosphate crust detected on the asteroid. The phosphate mineral rich in calcium and magnesium has never before been seen in meteorites, those small space rocks that pass through our atmosphere and descend to Earth.
The mineral’s chemistry bears an uncanny resemblance to that found in the vapor that shoots out from beneath the icy crust of Saturn’s moon. Enceladus.
Phosphate is also a fundamental element for life, adding weight to the hypothesis that life on Earth was first sparked by material left behind by asteroids when they crashed into the surface during our planet’s turbulent early history. .
Scientists say the world Bennu was once a part of likely had similarities to Enceladus, but was about half the size. When the Solar System took shape, it would have been destroyed by a collision with another object, forming thousands of asteroids.
These are very exciting investigations for scientists, since the opportunity to study samples from an asteroid is very rare. He OSIRIS-REx mission It is only the third time in history that we have been able to capture fragments of an asteroid and return them to Earth.
In the case of Bennu, the round trip took seven years in total and covered a considerable distance of 6.21 billion kilometers (3.86 billion miles). The sample capsule arrived safely in September 2023.
“We’re going to be busy for a long, long time,” planetary scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona told Leonard David in space.com. “This is a huge amount of sample for us.”
Teams around the world are taking a closer look at asteroid fragments. At the University of Arizona, they are examining thousands of particles, the largest measuring 3.5 centimeters (1.4 inches) across.
Techniques being applied to asteroid samples include X-ray diffractionwhere patterns of electromagnetic radiation are analyzed to understand more about the nature of the material they come into contact with.
The idea is that Bennu represents material left over from the formation of the Solar System, about 4.5 billion years ago. Understanding where it came from will also teach us more about where we came from.
We are still in the early stages of this research and can expect many more discoveries and revelations in the future, including, possibly, a confirmation of the type of planetesimal who begat Bennu.
The discoveries made so far will be presented at the 55th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.