NASA researchers recently analyzed the samples brought from the Bennu asteroid, reports the . The materials were collected by the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft in October 2020 and returned to Earth in September 2023.
Preliminary results suggest that Bennu is from an ancient world with an ocean.
The finding is based on the phosphate crust detected on the asteroid. This phosphate mineral, rich in calcium and magnesium, has never been seen in meteorites on Earth, but its chemical composition is eerily similar to materials found on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Enceladus is covered by a thick ice shell, beneath which lies an ocean of water. The materials of this ocean are sometimes released into space in the form of gas eruptions.
Phosphate is one of the building blocks of life. The new discovery confirms the theory that the material necessary for life on Earth was brought to our planet by ancient asteroids.
Researchers hypothesize that the object that Bennu was once a part of may have resembled Enceladus, but was roughly half its size. As the early solar system formed, the celestial body may have collided with another object, and its destruction may have created thousands of asteroids.
The OSIRIS-Rex mission was only the third mission in our history to bring back samples from an asteroid. The round trip took seven years, the spacecraft covered 6.21 billion kilometers.
Dante Lauretta, a colleague of the University of Arizona and a specialist in material testing, says that they have obtained a huge amount of samples, and they will have something to analyze for a long time. The pieces of the asteroid are being examined by researchers from all over the world, there are thousands of particles, the largest of which is 3.5 centimeters.
Experts believe that Bennu contains material from the early period of our system, 4.5 billion years ago. The analysis of his samples is still in the very early stages.