Unlocking secrets of the solar system’s past on Asteroid Bennu.

By Oliver Townsend Jun 30, 2024
Asteroid Bennu holds secrets of the solar system's past.jpegOrginal image from: https://www.earth.com/news/asteroid-bennu-holds-secrets-of-the-solar-systems-past/

Exploring the origins of our solar system and uncovering the secrets that lie within may seem like a daunting task. However, scientists from Curtin University, along with a global team, have embarked on a celestial detective journey to decode the mysteries hidden within the asteroid Bennu. This cosmic object has been traversing through space for over 4.5 billion years, carrying clues that could shed light on the very beginnings of our existence.

The Cosmic Detective Journey

Professor Nick Timms, a member of Curtin University’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences and part of the OSIRIS-REx Sample Analysis Team, shared some preliminary findings from the asteroid investigation. The samples collected from Bennu, brought back to Earth by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, revealed a treasure trove of information. These samples, unlike meteorites that have interacted with Earth’s atmosphere, provide a pristine look at the chemical composition of Bennu.

Chemical Composition of Bennu

Professor Timms highlighted that the asteroid’s chemical composition is akin to the visible surface of the sun, making it one of the most chemically primitive materials known. The presence of hydrated phyllosilicates and carbon-rich material suggests that asteroids like Bennu could have played a crucial role in delivering water and life’s building blocks to Earth. These findings offer a glimpse into the processes that might have fueled the emergence of life on our planet.

Unexpected Discoveries

Aside from the expected components, the samples from Bennu also contained magnesium-sodium phosphates and other trace minerals. These unexpected findings hint at the diverse chemical environments that Bennu has experienced over billions of years. By analyzing these trace minerals, scientists can piece together Bennu’s evolution and gain insights into the early solar system’s formation.

Practical Implications and Future Discoveries

While these findings provide valuable information about our cosmic origins, they also have practical implications. Presolar grains found in the samples offer a glimpse into the lives of ancient stars, while understanding asteroid composition can aid in identifying mining opportunities and preparing for potential asteroid impacts. The ongoing analysis of Bennu’s samples will continue to unveil more secrets, paving the way for future space exploration missions to further unravel the mysteries of our solar system.

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