Phosphate findings in NASA’s OSIRIS-REx samples

Bennu is home to the primordial materials that gave rise to our solar system, according to the OSIRIS-REx Sample Analysis Team.

Since it was transported to Earth last autumn, scientists have been anxiously awaiting the chance to examine the 4.3-ounce (121.6-gram) pristine asteroid Bennu sample that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer) mission acquired. They believed the material might provide details about the early solar system and the prebiotic chemistry that may have given rise to Earthly life.

Their findings were published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

Bennu is home to the primordial materials that gave rise to our solar system, according to the OSIRIS-REx Sample Analysis Team. The asteroid’s dust is abundant in organic molecules, carbon, and nitrogen—all of which are necessary for life as we know it. The study team was surprised to find magnesium-sodium phosphate in the sample as well, as it had not been identified in the remote sensing data gathered by the spacecraft at Bennu. Its inclusion in the sample suggests that the asteroid may have broken off from a small, prehistoric ocean planet in the distant past.

The Bennu sample analysis provided fascinating new information on the composition of the asteroid. The sample, which is dominated by clay minerals, especially serpentine, is similar to the kind of rock that is found at mid-ocean ridges on Earth, which are places where water and mantle material, which is the layer beneath the crust, mix.

Not only does this interaction produce clay, but it also produces a range of other minerals, including carbonates, iron oxides, and iron sulphides. However, the occurrence of phosphates that are soluble in water is the most surprising finding. These substances are elements of the biochemistry of every known form of life on Earth today.

The magnesium-sodium phosphate found in the Bennu sample stands out for its purity that is, the absence of other materials in the mineral and the size of its grains, which is unprecedented in any meteorite sample. A similar phosphate was found in the asteroid Ryugu sample sent by JAXA’s (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Hayabusa2 mission in 2020.

Magnesium-sodium phosphates have been found in the Bennu sample, which raises interesting issues regarding the geochemical processes that concentrated these elements and provide important hints about the historical circumstances of Bennu.

The presence and state of phosphates, along with other elements and compounds on Bennu, suggest a watery past for the asteroid,

Bennu potentially could have once been part of a wetter world. Although, this hypothesis requires further investigation.

Dante Lauretta

OSIRIS-REx gave us exactly what we hoped: a large pristine asteroid sample rich in nitrogen and carbon from a formerly wet world

Jason Dworkin

Bennu is still an asteroid with a basic chemical composition, much like the Sun, even if it may have once interacted with water.

The sample we returned is the largest reservoir of unaltered asteroid material on Earth right now

Dante Lauretta

This composition provides a window into the early solar system, which existed more than 4.5 billion years ago. The fact that these rocks haven’t melted or hardened since they were first formed confirms their ancient origins.

The asteroid’s high nitrogen and carbon content has been verified by the scientists. comprehension of the settings from which Bennu’s materials came and the chemical reactions that converted basic elements into complex molecules—possibly establishing the foundation for life on Earth—requires a comprehension of these components.

These findings underscore the importance of collecting and studying material from asteroids like Bennu especially low-density material that would typically burn up upon entering Earth’s atmosphere,

This material holds the key to unraveling the intricate processes of solar system formation and the prebiotic chemistry that could have contributed to life emerging on Earth.

Dante Lauretta

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Parts of the Bennu sample from NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston will be sent to dozens more labs in the US and around the world in the upcoming months, and the OSIRIS-REx Sample Analysis Team anticipates publishing many more scientific papers in the coming years detailing analyses of the Bennu sample.

The Bennu samples are tantalizingly beautiful extraterrestrial rocks,

Each week, analysis by the OSIRIS-REx Sample Analysis Team provides new and sometimes surprising findings that are helping place important constraints on the origin and evolution of Earth-like planets.

Harold Connolly

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was launched on September 8, 2016, and it journeyed to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu to gather a sample of dust and pebbles from its surface. On September 24, 2023, OSIRIS-REx, the first American mission to gather an asteroid sample, returned the sample to Earth.

Source: NASA Missions News

Journal Reference: Lauretta, Dante S., et al. “Asteroid (101955) Bennu in the Laboratory: Properties of the Sample Collected by OSIRIS-REx.” Meteoritics & Planetary Science,

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