NASA's OSIRIS-REx Has Discovered Water on the Asteroid Bennu

Thursday, 13 December 2018 - 11:49AM
Space
Thursday, 13 December 2018 - 11:49AM
NASA's OSIRIS-REx Has Discovered Water on the Asteroid Bennu
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NASA
Well that didn't take very long at all! Earlier this month, NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) reached the Bennu asteroid to begin a two-year survey and sample return mission. A week after it's arrival, NASA announced that the spacecraft had made a special discovery on the large near-Earth space rock: the presence of water.

Using the spacecraft's Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), NASA found that Bennu's clay minerals contains hydroxyls (bonded carbon and oxygen atoms). The asteroid is not large enough to host water according to the experts, which means that it likely came in contact with the water back when it was still a part of its much 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 OVIRS deputy instrument scientist Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in a statement. "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."

In an email to NBC News, Simon explained that discovering water on an asteroid like Bennu is important because it may support the theory that other asteroids were responsible for transporting water and organic molecules to Earth a long time ago.There is always the question of whether resources would have been better spent on other pursuits, especially when the price tag is around $800 million. OSIRIS-REx's job is far from over, but this early find must be a major affirmation and a good sign for the team back at NASA that they chose their target wisely. 

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