KEY POINTS

  • OSIRIS-REx will collect samples from Bennu on Oct. 20
  • Bennu came from a parent body which had enough heat to keep water in its soils
  • Nightingale will be the mission’s primary sample site
  • The samples are set to be delivered back on Earth on Sept. 24, 2023

NASA has shared more information about asteroid Bennu and the agency’s mission to bring back samples of the asteroid’s surface through their OSIRIS-REx mission on Oct. 20. The 861-foot asteroid may contain ingredients for life.

In a recent article shared by NASA, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is set to travel to a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to collect a 2.1-ounce sample and bring it back to Earth for further study. The mission plans to shed more light for scientists on how life began in the solar system, as well as improve their knowledge on asteroids that pass by Earth in the course of a year.

Journals published last week by Science and Science Advances have also revealed that Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid which formed more than 4.5 billion years ago, has a surface almost completely covered in carbon-bearing organic molecules — essential ingredients for life to thrive on Earth. It is also said to contain hydrated minerals, suggesting that the NEA had a watery origin.

Though Bennu in the present day shows evidence of being lifeless, its origin shows that it had possibly already delivered dust and meteorite to Earth in the past, and that any life it contained is already here, according to scientists working on the OSIRIS-REx mission on a Reddit AMA post on Oct. 13.

Recent information revealed by NASA also says Bennu’s parent body is said to have had enough heat to keep water — yes, that is correct — liquid water in its soils. As water continued to stream through the asteroid, it slowly deposited carbonate minerals within the fractures that it would pass through. About a billion years ago, however, a massive collision in the asteroid belt caused Bennu to get separated from its parent body. The deposited carbonate minerals from its parent body explains how Bennu got its mineral veins sculpted on its boulders today.

With the OSIRIS-REx mission, scientists plan to get answers from a wide array of questions, such as finding out if water-bearing minerals in Bennu have the same chemical signatures here on Earth. They are also eager to learn about the type of organic molecules found on the asteroid, and if they are similar to the precursors to life on Earth. If so, then it could be possible that objects similar to Bennu have also delivered water to Earth in the distant past.

OSIRIS-REx is set to collect samples on Nightingale, its primary sample site, and deliver the sample back to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

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