NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has returned its first glimpse of dust grains captured from the asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft successfully completed its round-trip journey to the asteroid, making a near-perfect landing of its sample return capsule in Utah. The capsule was quickly retrieved and transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for analysis.
On Tuesday, scientists had the exciting opportunity to open the lid of the sample canister and examine the visible dust grains. While some of the dust will be wiped off and sent to a laboratory for analysis, there is little doubt that the grains are from asteroid Bennu. This is an important step towards unraveling the mysteries surrounding the origin of life on Earth.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected the asteroid samples by using a touch-and-go landing technique. It extended a robotic arm to the surface, releasing a burst of gas to capture loose rocks in a collection chamber called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM). However, the collection chamber’s door was wedged open by larger rocky material, resulting in some fragments leaking out into space.
Scientists are hopeful that they may have collected more material than the estimated 250 grams during the mission. The actual amount brought back to Earth will be determined next month when the TAGSAM sampling mechanism is removed from the canister and opened.
The initial analysis of the visible dust is expected to provide insights into whether it matches the remote sensing observations made on the asteroid. It will also inform the sample analysis plan that has been developed over the past two years. The real treasure, however, lies inside the TAGSAM, and scientists are eager to access it to distribute the samples to international partners and the OSIRIS-REx science team.
Approximately 70 percent of the asteroid sample will be preserved for future analysis using advanced lab technology and techniques. NASA has scheduled a press conference for October 11 to reveal more details about the nature of the samples collected from Bennu.
Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission, expressed his excitement about this milestone and the prospect of further exploration inside the TAGSAM. Lauretta and his team are eager to uncover the treasures hidden within the samples and contribute to our understanding of the universe.
The OSIRIS-REx mission represents a significant achievement in space exploration and scientific discovery. It highlights NASA’s commitment to unlocking the secrets of the solar system and the origins of life.