Surprising insights on early solar system from Asteroid Bennu samples.

By Oliver Townsend Jun 30, 2024
Asteroid Bennu Samples Reveal Surprising Insights into Early Solar System.jpegOrginal image from:

Asteroid Bennu, a B-type asteroid rich in carbonaceous materials, has provided scientists with a wealth of information about the early solar system and the history of water in space through samples collected by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. These samples, the largest ever returned to Earth from an asteroid, offer valuable insights into the conditions and processes that existed billions of years ago.

The Significance of Bennu and OSIRIS-REx Mission

Bennu was selected for the OSIRIS-REx mission due to its proximity to Earth, manageable size, and the presence of organic molecules. The asteroid’s composition makes it an ideal candidate for studying the primordial materials of the solar system, shedding light on its origin and formation. Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the mission, emphasized the importance of Bennu’s potential connection to a “wetter world.”

Analysis of Bennu’s Samples

The samples collected from Bennu, weighing about 120 grams, have been meticulously studied using advanced techniques such as plasma mass spectrometry and infrared spectrometry. The results have uncovered a complex composition of minerals and organic compounds, some of which were unexpected. The samples’ pristine nature has preserved their original state from billions of years ago, providing a unique opportunity for analysis.

Unexpected Discoveries

One of the most surprising findings from the analysis of Bennu’s samples is the presence of serpentine and other clay minerals, similar to those found on Earth’s mid-ocean ridges. These minerals suggest past interactions with water, hinting at potential hydrothermal processes on Bennu. The discovery of salty crusts coating some particles further supports the theory of water involvement on the asteroid.

Implications of Discoveries

The presence of water-soluble phosphates in the Bennu samples is particularly noteworthy, as these compounds are essential components of biochemistry found throughout Earth’s biosphere. This discovery opens new avenues for understanding the distribution of life-supporting chemicals in the solar system and hints at a watery past for the asteroid. The findings from Bennu’s samples offer insights into planetary formation and evolution.


The research conducted on Bennu’s samples by Dante S. Lauretta and his team has provided a comprehensive understanding of the asteroid’s composition and history. By studying these samples, scientists can unlock valuable information about the early solar system and potentially the origins of life. The unexpected discoveries and implications of Bennu’s samples highlight the importance of continued exploration and analysis of our cosmic neighbors.

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