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Science and Innovations

Spacecraft Mission Finds Evidence for Asteroid’s Watery Past

NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

A NASA spacecraft operated by the University of Arizona has discovered water locked up in clay minerals on an asteroid. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, some scientists believe asteroids may have delivered water and organic molecules to Earth in its early history, sparking the origin of life.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at the asteroid Bennu last week. Its instruments detected hydrogen and oxygen atoms bonded to clay minerals, indicating the asteroid had a watery past.

Principal investigator Dante Lauretta announced the finding at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. He said, "It definitely looks like we’ve gone to the right place. Very early in the mission we had found out that in fact Bennu is going to be able to provide the type of material we want to return and get back into our laboratories."

The spacecraft will collect a sample of the asteroid and bring it back to Earth in 2023. OSIRIS-REx will also search for organic material on Bennu.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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