Discoveries from the OSIRIS-REx probe have shown that the ancient asteroid Bennu, approaching Earth, contains components for the development of life.
The asteroid is slightly taller and wider than the Empire State Building. It has the highest probability of hitting Earth in the next 150 years – more than any known asteroid. Since late 2018, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has begun exploring Bennu’s secrets from orbit around it.
New observations show that Bennu’s structure and origins are richer and more complex than scientists could imagine.
In six studies published in Science and Science Advances, the OSIRIS-REx team presents new high-resolution cartographic data collected since the probe arrived at Benn. The global map of Bennu uses infrared spectroscopy to highlight areas rich in carbonaceous materials such as organic molecules and carbonate minerals. Veins in some of the boulders suggest that water was present at Bennu during the early solar system.
The object, in particular, may contain clues to the true origin of life. Bennu is part of the asteroid population known to contain carbon-containing organic molecules – essential ingredients for life as we know it on Earth – as well as minerals altered by the presence of water. Researchers suspect that at least some of the Earth’s water and organic molecules came from asteroids, so objects such as Bennu may well have seeded the Earth with the chemicals it needs for life.