OSIRIS-REx Artist Concept on the Bennu asteroid, a remnant of sunrise, which may contain indications of the origin of life. (Supplied: NASA Goddard Space Center / Imaginary Image Laboratory)
NASA's OSIRIS-REX spacecraft has discovered water components of a relatively large skyscraper with a large-sized asteroid, a rocky acorn-shaped object that can detect traces of the origin of life on Earth, scientists say.
- NASA's OSIRIS-REx has detected traces of hydrogen and oxygen on the Bennu asteroid
- Asteroids and comets that break into the early earth may have worn compounds that have caused life
- OSIRIS-REx will collect samples from Bennu and then return to Earth in 2023
OSIRIS-REx, which last week flown in just 19 kilometers from the Bennu asteroid, which is about 2.25 million kilometers from Earth, discovered traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules – part of the recipe for water and thus potential for life – built-in in the rocky surface of the asteroid.
The probe, on a mission to return asteroid samples to Earth for study, started in 2016
Benou, about 500 meters wide, walks around the sun at almost the same distance from Earth.
Scientists are concerned about the possibility of Bennu striking the Earth late in the 22nd century.
"There are water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly what we were going to find and eventually return to Earth," said Arizona Planetary Scientist Dante Loretta, OSIRIS-REx mission chief researcher, said in a telephone interview.
Bennu regularly crosses the Earth's orbit and will come dangerously close to Earth for about 150 years. (NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona via AP)
Asteroids are among the remaining remnants of the formation of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.
Scientists believe that asteroids and comets that break into the early earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that have spawned the planet for life. Bennu's sample analysis can provide key evidence to support this hypothesis.
"When samples of this material are returned from Earth's mission in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system," says Amy Simon, a Goddard Space Flight scientist at Maryland, statement.
"We really try to understand the role that these asteroids, rich in carbon, play to deliver water to the early Earth and make it habitable," Dr. Lauretta added.
Later this month, OSIRIS-REx will pass only 1.9 kilometers from Bennu, entering the gravitational pull of the asteroid and analyzing its terrain. From there, the spacecraft will gradually begin to tighten its orbit around the asteroid by moving within just 2 meters of its surface so its robot arm can catch a sample from Bennu by July 2020.
The spacecraft will fly later on the Earth and eject the capsule carrying the asteroid parachute descent model in the Utah desert in September 2023.
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