First look at asteroid hints it’s part of a lost ocean world: ScienceAlert

First look at asteroid hints it’s part of a lost ocean world: ScienceAlert

NASA scientists have just begun analyzing fragments brought back from the asteroid Bennu, and early evidence suggests that the material they contain originated from an ancient ocean world.

This assumption is based on the phosphate crust discovered on the asteroid. The calcium- and magnesium-rich phosphate mineral has never before been seen on meteorites, those tiny space rocks that pass through the atmosphere and reach Earth.

The mineral’s chemistry bears an uncanny resemblance to that found in steam emanating from beneath the icy crust of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.

Phosphate is also a building block for life, adding weight to the hypothesis that life on Earth was first created by materials left behind by asteroids, when they crashed onto the surface during our planet’s turbulent early history.

Scientists say the world that Bennu was a part of likely had similarities to Enceladus but was about half its size. As the solar system formed, it would have been destroyed by collision with another body, creating thousands of asteroids.

These are very exciting investigations for scientists, as the opportunity to study asteroid samples is very rare. The OSIRIS-REx mission is only the third time in history that we have been able to grab pieces of an asteroid and return them to Earth.

In Bennu’s case, the round trip took a total of seven years and covered a significant distance of 6.21 billion kilometers (3.86 billion miles). The sample capsule returned safely in September 2023.

“We’re going to be busy for a very long time,” planetary scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona told Space.com’s Leonard David. “That’s a huge amount of samples for us.”

Teams around the world are taking a closer look at asteroid fragments. At the University of Arizona, they are sifting through thousands of particles, the largest of which is 3.5 cm (1.4 inches) across.

Techniques applied to asteroid samples include X-ray diffraction, where patterns of electromagnetic radiation are analyzed to understand more about the nature of the material they come into contact with.

Bennu is believed to represent material left over from the formation of the solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago. Understanding where it comes from will teach us more about where it comes from as well.

We are still in the very early stages of this research, and we can expect many discoveries and discoveries in the future, including, perhaps, confirmation of the type of minor planet that produced Bennu.

The discoveries made so far are scheduled to be presented at the 55th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, which will be held in Texas.

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