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Views of the asteroid Bennu from the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx. Credit: NASA/Goddard via the University of Arizona

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which has intercepted the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, has recently found molecular evidence of water locked deep inside the asteroid, NASA said Monday.

Why it matters: This is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, and analyzing Bennu could provide scientists with a trove of new information about the asteroid's composition and ultimately lead to new discoveries about how life evolved in the universe. Asteroids are time capsules of the early solar system and are believed to contain information about the origins of planets and the natural resources that enabled life to develop.

Details: Data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers show that molecules containing oxygen and hydrogen bonded together, known as hydroxyls, are present on the asteroid. Researchers involved in the project think that hydroxyls are located across the asteroid in water-containing clay minerals.

  • This revelation means that water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, which was a much larger asteroid, according to NASA. This confirms scientists' suspicions about this asteroid, which made it a prime target for a mission in the first place. Bennu is considered to be too small to currently host liquid water.

What's next: OSIRIS-REx will attempt to land on the asteroid to retrieve samples and return them to Earth in 2023. Such analysis could greatly improve our understanding of asteroid composition as well as prove concepts that could be used in new industries, such as space mining.

Go deeper: NASA spacecraft arrives at near-Earth asteroid Bennu

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
19 mins ago - Podcasts

Net neutrality on the line under Biden

Federal net neutrality rules are back on the table in the Biden administration, after being nixed by Trump, but now might be complicated by the debate over social media companies' behavior.

Axios Re:Cap digs into why net neutrality matters and what comes next with Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge and host of the Decoder podcast.

House grants waiver for retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to lead Pentagon

Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House voted 326-78 on Thursday to grant retired Gen. Lloyd Austin a waiver to lead the Pentagon, clearing the way for the Senate to confirm President Biden's nominee for defense secretary as early as this week.

Why it matters: Austin's nomination received pushback from some lawmakers, including Democrats, who cited a law that requires officers be out of the military for at least seven years before taking the job — a statute intended to reinforce the tradition of civilian control of the Pentagon.

Amanda Gorman steals the show on Inauguration Day

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Axios Visuals

Poet Amanda Gorman by far generated the most average interactions on social media on Inauguration Day, according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.