“It’s really amazing that we have all this material there.”
Last month, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission successfully dropped off extremely rare samples it collected from the asteroid Bennu, tens of millions of miles away, that could provide tantalizing glimpses into the early stages of our solar system.
The capsule landed safely in the Utah desert and was immediately airlifted to a special facility at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Scientists quickly opened the case to find a wealth of material — and that’s not even counting the still-sealed chamber in the spacecraft’s TAGSAM (touch-and-go sample acquisition mechanism) head, which contains most of the treasure.
In fact, there are so many “dark particles” covering the inside of the can that they slow down the curing process, according to one researcher. NASA statement.
“There is a lot of abundant material outside the head of TAGSAM that is interesting in its own right,” said Christopher Sneed, deputy chief of the OSIRIS-REx Regulatory Division from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in the press release. “It’s really amazing that we have all this material there.”
Touch and go
The spacecraft rendezvoused with the 1,600-foot asteroid in 2020. It slowly approached Bennu with TAGSAM stretched out in front of it, making brief contact and sending dust and small rocks flying.
It took years for OSIRIS-REx to finally return to Earth orbit. Having successfully dropped his spoils, he is now on his way to a different asteroid called Apophis, a journey that will lead to… It takes about 5.5 years.
Scientists are now performing preliminary analysis of initial samples taken from outside TAGSAM’s head, scanning them using electron microscopes, X-rays, and infrared instruments.
They hope to find out if the samples contain any organic-rich molecules or hydrated minerals, which could provide clues about Bennu’s origins.
This “quick” analysis will pave the way for more complex analyzes of larger parts of the sample – and we can’t hear what they will find.
Updated to correct an error regarding where the capsule landed.
More about the mission: Scientists open the lid of a can containing an asteroid sample
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