For decades, scientists have been trying to answer questions relating to outer space such as: ‘Is there any sign of life out there in the universe’ or ‘Is there water on other planets?’ Most scientists believe that presence of water on a planet signals life, which is true for Earth. Thus, the fact that NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex, which is 12 miles away from asteroid Bennu and millions of miles away from Earth, has found evidence of water on the asteroid is an exciting discovery. Here is the full story.
This spacecraft was sent out into space 2 years ago in order to study asteroid Bennu in more detail. Now it is getting closer and closer to the asteroid. NASA has stated that their estimates about Bennu’s rotation, size and orbit were correct. The only estimate they were not right about was the large boulder at the south side of Bennu. NASA’s observations had suggested that the boulder was only 10 meters (33 feet) in height, but OSIRIS-REx has confirmed that is it is about 50 meters (164 feet) in height.
How Has NASA Determined That There Is Water Present On The Asteroid?
The pair of spectrometers carried by the OSIRIS-REx has the ability to characterize molecules that are present on Bennu. The OSIRIS-Rex Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) and OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) helped NASA discover evidence that Bennu did previously contain water. The scans showed molecules called hydroxyls that are a composition on oxygen and hydrogen atoms. Thus NASA’s team working on the OSIRIS-REx mission, who are led by Dante Lauretta, professor of planetary science and Cosmo chemistry, have determined that the hydroxyls that are spread all over Bennu contain water-bearing clay minerals. Dante Lauretta stated that there is “strong, convincing evidence that the surface is dominated by these hydrated minerals,” which means it is water-rich, and this is a huge discovery.
What This Discovery Means
This does not by any means imply that Bennu is inhabitable, as it is extremely cold and that there is no current evidence of liquid water present on Bennu. There is probably no liquid water on the asteroid as it is too small of an area to be able to contain any sort of liquid. The likely explanation given for the water sources found on the asteroid is that Bennu probably interacted previously with water from a larger asteroid or host planet.
Of course, this discovery has led to excitement and anxiousness amongst the scientists working on the OSIRIS-REx mission, who want to be able to see the asteroid more closely and hopefully collect a sample as well. It is scheduled that the OSIRIS-REx will be as close as 1.4 kilometres (0.87 miles) from Bennu, orbiting around the surface, on the 31st of December this year. Also, in around 18 months, the OSIRIS-REx will start to approach the surface to attempt taking a sample of Bennu. The sample will be taken by the 10-foot robot arm the spacecraft will use to scoop up materials from the surface. OSIRIS-REx can collect up to 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of sampling material from the asteroid. If everything happens as planned, NASA’s team predicts that the sample will arrive at earth by September of 2023.
Discoveries like these makes one feel grateful for innovative technologies, as they is being used for discovery and to gain knowledge about the world and universe at large.