NASA begins to unravel cosmic heritage: water evidence found in Bennu sample

An asteroid sample, recently brought to Earth, contains “abundant” evidence of carbon and water, NASA said.

Less than two weeks ago, robotic spacecraft OSIRIS-REx delivered a sample of rocks and dust from asteroid Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid discovered in 1999. The sample, grabbed from the asteroid with the spacecraft’s robotic arm, was dropped in a designated area in the Utah desert.

Scientists anticipate that the biggest asteroid sample ever brought to Earth – weighing an estimated 8.8 ounces, or 250 grams – will help to better understand planet formation and the origin of organics and water that led to life on Earth.

Initial studies of the sample show evidence of high-carbon content and water, NASA said. According to the scientists, these findings could “indicate that the building blocks of life on Earth may be found in the rock.”

NASA insists that the secrets held within the asteroid will be studied for the decades to come. Since Bennu hasn’t changed for 4.5 billion years, it holds valuable information and may even contain organic molecules similar to those necessary for the emergence of microbes.

A quick first analysis of the initial material provided evidence of “abundant” carbon and water in the sample.

“The bounty of carbon-rich material and the abundant presence of water-bearing clay minerals are just the tip of the cosmic iceberg. These discoveries, made possible through years of dedicated collaboration and cutting-edge science, propel us on a journey to understand not only our celestial neighborhood but also the potential for life’s beginnings. With each revelation from Bennu, we draw closer to unraveling the mysteries of our cosmic heritage,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, University of Arizona, Tucson.

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