Data from NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission reveals that water mixed in with clay minerals has been discovered in the asteroid Bennu.
As reported by NASA, the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) spacecraft made this discovery during the mission’s approach phase between mid-August and early December, about 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) into its journey from Earth, just about 12 miles (19km) from Bennu itself.
At this point, data was was obtained using the OSIRIS-REx OVIRS (Osiris Visible and Infrared Spectrometer) and OTES (Osiris Thermal Emission Spectrometer) revealing the presence of molecules containing oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, otherwise known as hydroxyls, reports cnet.com.
It’s suspected that these hydroxyl groups exist throughout Bennu in the form of water-bearing clay minerals, meaning at some point in time, Bennu interacted with water. Though NASA says Bennu is too small to have hosted liquid water itself, it’s expected that liquid water was present at one point or another in a larger parent asteroid.
“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist. “When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”
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