NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft broke a record after successfully entering into orbit around the asteroid Bennu — the smallest cosmic object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.
- OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.
- OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, which previously sent the New Horizons spacecraft zooming by Pluto and the Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter.
- NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral in Sept 2016 on mission to asteroid Bennu
- Object is said to be carbon-rich hunk of rock that may contain organic materials, molecular precursors to life
- Scientists estimate the asteroid formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago, and is left over from early solar system
- Osiris-Rex’ ultimate goal is to bring back a dirt and rock sample of at least 2.1 ounces, to be studied on Earth
- It will survey the surface for a year before dropping down to collect sample, with plans to return home in 2023
- Data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), reveal the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as ‘hydroxyls.’
- The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water.
- While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.