Phosphate in NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample suggests space rock Bennu hails from an ocean world

On September 24, 2023, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft dropped a capsule to Earth containing pristine carbonaceous regolith collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. These samples were obtained after the probe took an impressive, seven-year roundtrip journey through the solar system and back.

Since these space rock pieces arrived (approximately 120 grams of sample, to be precise) scientists have highly anticipated an analysis of the specimens that can tell us what molecules lie within Bennu.  They’ve been hoping to find clues about the history of our solar system, seeing as Bennu should’ve been present when our cosmic neighborhood was coming together, and prebiotic molecules that might provide insights into the origin of life on Earth. It’s possible, many experts speculated, that these samples could host the seeds of other essential ingredients, such as water, that could have contributed to Earth’s habitability if they ended up on our planet, too.

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