An artistic concept of OSIRIS-REx in the Bennu asteroid, a remnant of the dawn of the solar system that may contain clues about the origins of life. (Provided: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Conceptual Imaging Laboratory)
NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe has discovered ingredients for water in an asteroid the size of a relatively nearby skyscraper, an acorn-shaped rocky object that may hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists say.
- OSIRIS-REX spacecraft found traces of hydrogen and oxygen in the Bennu asteroid
- Asteroids and Comets Colliding with the Early Earth May Have Produced Compounds That Sparked Life
- OSIRIS-REx will collect samples from Bennu and then return to Earth in 2023
OSIRIS-REX, which flew last week within 19 kilometers of the asteroid Bennu, which is 2.25 million kilometers from Earth, has found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules – part of the water's revenue, and therefore potential of life – rocky asteroid surface.
The probe, on a mission to return asteroid samples to Earth for study, was launched in 2016.
Bennu, about 500 meters wide, orbits the sun about the same distance as Earth.
There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu reaching the Earth at the end of the 22nd century.
"We find the water-rich minerals of the primitive solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample that we would find and ultimately bring back to Earth," said Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, the mission of OSIRIS- REx. principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.
Bennu regularly crosses Earth's orbit and will arrive dangerously close to Earth in about 150 years. (NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona via AP)
Asteroids are among the remains of the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
Scientists believe that asteroids and comets colliding with primitive Earth may have released organic compounds and water that sowed the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of Bennu's samples could provide important evidence to support this hypothesis.
"When samples of this material are returned by the Earth mission in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system," said Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. said in a statement.
"We are really trying to understand the role that these carbon-rich asteroids play in providing water to the primitive Earth and making it habitable," added Lauretta.
At the end of this month, OSIRIS-REx will pass just 1.9 km from Bennu, entering the gravitational pull of the asteroid and analyzing its terrain. From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling just 2 meters from its surface, so that its robotic arm can capture a sample of Bennu by July 2020.
The spacecraft will again fly to Earth, dropping a capsule with the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert, United States, in September 2023.
Science and technology,
planets and asteroids,