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A global map of Bennu. Photo: Simon et al., Science (2020)

The space rock that eventually gave rise to the asteroid Bennu — currently being studied from close range by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft — may have had flowing water, according to a new study in the journal Science.

Why it matters: Asteroids are thought to be building blocks leftover from the early days of the solar system, and understanding their nature could provide insights into its evolution.

State of play: Bennu is thought to have formed when a huge impact broke apart its parent body at some point in the relatively early days of the solar system.

  • That parent body — which likely formed from ice and rocky material — eventually heated up.
  • "When it heated up, the ice originally incorporated was turned into liquid water," Hannah Kaplan, one of the authors of the new study, told Axios.
  • The scientists behind the new study found veins of carbonate on Bennu, suggesting water was flowing through fractures in the parent body only a few million years after the formation of the solar system.

Yes, but: This finding doesn't mean there was some kind of life on the airless body, but it does lend further proof to the idea that our solar system is rich in water and perhaps the building blocks of life.

  • "I think more likely it is an environment that fosters liquid water and organics, which may then be delivered to a more favorable surface," Kaplan said.

What's next: OSIRIS-REx is about to set down on Bennu to sample the space rock this month.

  • That sample will then be sent back to Earth where scientists will be able to analyze it and learn even more about the history of the asteroid.
  • If the sample contains carbonate, for example, scientists may be able to learn even more about Bennu's possibly watery past.
  • "Every time we visit an asteroid, we see something unexpected... The diversity present in the asteroid population in terms of geology, chemistry, and geophysics is vast, and we have only scratched the surface," planetary astronomer Andy Rivkin, who wasn't affiliated with the new study, told Axios via email.

Of note: This study was one of six in a package released by Science and Science Advances this week. Read all of them here.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

Biden seeks to reboot U.S. sanctions policy

Sanctions increased under Obama and dramatically under Trump. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Biden administration is rethinking the U.S. approach to sanctions after four years of Donald Trump imposing and escalating them.

The big picture: Sanctions are among the most powerful tools the U.S. has to influence its adversaries’ behavior without using force. But they frequently fail to bring down regimes or moderate their behavior, and they can increase the suffering of civilians and resentment of the U.S.

2 hours ago - World

Merkel's farewell spoiled by Poland crisis at EU summit

One last awkward EU "family photo." Photo: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

Angela Merkel took up her vaunted mantle as Europe's crisis manager for what could be the last time tonight, as she urged the EU to find compromise in its showdown with Poland.

Why it matters: The European Commission has threatened to withhold over $40 billion in pandemic recovery funds after Poland's constitutional tribunal — stacked with loyalists from the ruling right-wing populist party — rejected the principle that EU law has primacy over national law.

Republicans who put it all on the line

Rep. Nancy Mace speaks with reporters after voting to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A small contingent of House Republicans risked their political futures on Thursday, they say, in the name of constitutional responsibility.

Why it matters: The nine Republicans who voted to hold former Trump aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress are now in peril of becoming political pariahs. They've opened themselves up to potential primary challengers and public attacks from their party's kingmaker — former President Trump.