As seen in Forbes Science | December 11, 2018

Data from the asteroid ‘101955 Bennu’ — the prime science target for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission — reveal ubiquitous amounts of water locked inside clays, the mission’s science team reported.  The team has been very pleasantly surprised by new analysis of high-resolution data from the spacecraft’s imaging cameras and spectrometers.

Asteroid Beenu

This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km).CREDIT: NASA/GODDARD/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

The mission marks NASA’s first attempt at an asteroid sample-return mission. And the process of imaging the asteroid to determine where best to attempt the inherently tricky landing on this 1614-foot diameter object is complicated at best.  However, today, the team pronounced the spacecraft as healthy and working even better than required.

NASA says that data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers reveal the presence of “hydroxyls,” molecules that contain bonded oxygen and hydrogen atoms.  While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, NASA says the finding does indicate that liquid water was present on Bennu’s parent body — a much larger asteroid.

“When samples of this material are returned to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system,” Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist at NASA, said in a statement.

NASA says the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer mission’s scientists and engineers must know the mass of the asteroid in order to design the spacecraft’s insertion into orbit.  That’s because Bennu’s mass affects the asteroid’s gravitational pull on the spacecraft.