Why might the asteroid visited by NASA be part of an ancient ocean world?

The OSIRIS-REX probe visits the asteroid Bennu.

After seven years of waiting, on September 24th NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, He returned from his long journey with a valuable cargo: 250 grams a Distant asteroid

Once it landed, a group of scientists took the capsule containing the substance from the body Asteroid Bennu To a temporary laboratory installed in the middle of the Utah desert, the landing site. The next day I was in Houston, NASA headquarters.

But open Beano sample containerWhat was supposed to be a simple task, was a headache for the scientists. The amount absorbed by the vessel blocked the opening mechanism of the sample container and it was initially possible to recover only the material that had overflowed.

A specimen of Bennu can now be seen at the Natural History Museum in London

Finally, in January, NASA experts were able to dismantle the mechanism and access the original samples without contaminating them. For the purposes of studying it using the latest available technologies. It's more. Part of Bennu remains isolated, waiting to be studied by advanced technology in the future.

Currently, a large portion of the samples are being studied at the atomic level, at the University of Arizona's Kuiper-Arizona Laboratory for Astromaterials Analysis, by no one else. Dante Lauretta The principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx, who did not hesitate to classify this material this week as… “Part of the ancient ocean world.”

Dante Lauretta shows the head into which Bennu's extracted material was placed (B. David NASA)

“We have over 1,000 particles measuring more than half a millimeter, 28 particles measuring more than a centimeter, and the largest particle measuring 3.5 centimeters. It's an amazing collection full of really big stones,” Loretta said of the collection. 200 milligrams received by your laboratory.

Bennu's samples contain abundant amounts of water trapped in minerals such as clay and are also… Rich in carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. The OSIRIS-REx samples represent the largest pristine reservoir of such materials on Earth.

The NASA team was responsible for collecting samples from the asteroid Bennu, which arrived in September aboard a capsule delivered by the OSIRIS-REx mission. (NASA/ROBERT MARKOWITZ)

“We are going to be busy for a very long time studying this material. This is a large amount of samples for us.” The OSIRIS-REx samples contain a phosphate crust never before seen in meteorites. “These high concentrations of phosphate have been discovered on extraterrestrial ocean worlds,” the expert said.

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He cited as an example Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, which contains phosphate, an essential element for life, at levels much higher than Earth's oceans. “Asteroid Bennu may be part of an ancient ocean world. This is still very speculative. But this is the best evidence I have now to explain the origin of that material.

A top-down view of the head of the OSIRIS-REx Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) with the cover removed, revealing the rest of the asteroid sample inside. (NASA/Erika Blumenfeld and Joseph Aebersold)

The key to studying this material from the Bennu meteorite is that it was picked up by NASA spacecraft without any contamination. Asteroids studied on Earth experience their outer shells being destroyed and burned up as they enter the atmosphere.

There is a whole space of matter that we will never be able to access if we rely solely on meteoritesLoretta added. Most meteorites that endure a fiery fall through Earth's atmosphere and are recovered are asteroid fragments.

Image provided by NASA of a mosaic of asteroid Bennu consisting of 12 PolyCam images collected on December 2 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km). (EFE/NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

Samples of Bennu dust and rocks collected on the space mission Osiris Rex (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer) from NASA, containing evidence of existence High percentage of carbon and water, Which together can refer to the basic components of life on Earth.

“The OSIRIS-REx sample is The largest sample of carbon-rich asteroids ever sent to Earth It will help scientists investigate the origins of life on our planet for generations to come,” were the first words of the NASA administrator, Bill Nelson When the material was released to the press.

The OSIRIS-REx probe took 7 years to reach the asteroid, orbit around it, and bring the samples to Earth (Reuters)

Nelson said: “The initial analysis of the sample reveals the presence of abundant water in the form of moist clay minerals containing carbon,” noting that this discovery is unprecedented.

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“With approx 5% carbon by weight, Because carbon is the essential element for life, far exceeding our target of 60 grams, this is the largest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever returned to Earth. Carbon and water molecules are exactly the type of matter we wanted to find. “They will help us determine the origin of the elements that could have led to the emergence of life,” he said about the 250 grams that the space capsule was able to bring to Earth in total.

NASA scientists monitor the capsule that just landed in the Utah desert with Bennu samples

diego bago, The astronomer from La Plata explained L information “Earth is not the only place in the solar system where we can find water. In fact, there are what we called, many years ago, 'ocean worlds.'” We point out the moons of other planets, mainly two of them: Europa (Jupiter's moon) and Enceladus (Saturn's moon). Beneath its icy crusts, there are two oceans of liquid water.

“Studies on Enceladus based on observations from the Cassini mission to Saturn have shown its importance Phosphate concentrations in expelled steam, such as floor heatersThe expert indicated that it was from inside this moon.

Illustration of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching Bennu (NASA)

He added: “Now, in the samples of the asteroid Bennu collected and brought to Earth by the OSIRIS-REx mission (NASA), certain phosphate shells have been found in concentrations similar to those found in Enceladus vapor, which indicates that there may be a relationship between this type of asteroid and And the moons with their planets. Throughout its history (5000 million years) in the solar system, there were, initially, a large number of collisions, which allowed the existence of Exchange of materials between celestial bodies.”

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For Baggo, phosphate is an essential element in the formation of DNA molecules as we know them on our planet. “The discovery of these chemical components in wide and diverse regions of the solar system It never stops raising expectations of finding life at some point It pointed beyond our place in the universe.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission lands on Bennu to collect samples (NASA)

NASA experts will provide more details about the Bennu samples at the 55th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference next month in The Woodlands, Texas.

More than 70 abstracts of scientific production were presented at this prestigious meeting. “Starting in March, the world will be informed of all this. So the team is working intensely,” concluded Laurita.

Lovell Loxley

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