NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft discovers water on the asteroid, Bennu

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NASA’s latest Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource, Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer or OSIRIS-Rex mission has detected water on the asteroid Bennu. OSIRIS-Rex is NASA’s first asteroid sample mission. OSIRIS-Rex is the third of NASA’s New Frontier Programme. It traveled for 2.2 million KM on its journey from Earth to arrive at a distance of 19 KM from Bennu on December 3.

The spacecraft’s two spectrometers called the OSIRIS-Rex Visible and Infrared Spectrometer and the OSIRIS-Rex Thermal Emission Spectrometer collected the data which confirmed the presence of molecules containing oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together. The team speculates that the presence of hydroxyls mean that the asteroid interacted with water. This also may mean that Bennu’s parent body.

Bennu’s surface is a mix of both rocky, uneven surface and smooth surface. Amy Simon the OVIRS deputy instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said, “The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics. When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”

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The team will observe more closely to see if they can obtain samples from the asteroid. The original model developed in 2013 by OSIRIS-Rex science team chief Michael Nolan and collaborates predicted the boulder to be at least 10 meters in height. The preliminary calculations from the OCAMS observations show that the boulder is closer to 50 meters, with a width of approximately 55 meters.

The mission is currently concerned with the better understating of its mass and so to do that NASA is flying spacecraft over Bennu’s north pole, equator, and south pole as close as 7 KM from the asteroid surface. Knowing about the mass more accurately will help the scientists understand the asteroid’s structure and composition. The spacecraft’s first orbital insertion is scheduled for 31st December, and OSIRIS-REx will remain in orbit until mid-February 2019.

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