NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has achieved a major milestone by successfully collecting a sample of asteroid Bennu and returning it to Earth. The mission capsule containing the precious samples landed on Earth on September 24, marking a significant moment in scientific exploration.
Scientists are hopeful that the samples obtained from Bennu will provide valuable insights into the early days of our solar system. These samples, comprising rocks and dust found on the outside and inside of the sample collector’s head, hold the potential to unlock mysteries about the formation of our universe and shed light on how life on Earth came into existence.
The OSIRIS-REx team recently announced that they managed to collect an impressive 70.3 grams (2.48 ounces) of Bennu material from the capsule before it was opened for analysis. This achievement is a testament to the skill and precision of the mission’s engineers and the innovative touch-and-go process employed to collect the sample.
It was during this process that scientists made an intriguing discovery about Bennu. Contrary to expectations of a solid object, Bennu was found to be malleable in nature. This unexpected characteristic resulted in a larger sample being collected, presenting an even greater opportunity for study and understanding.
However, the task of retrieving the sample has not been without its challenges. The team encountered difficulty in removing the sample due to fasteners that could not be undone with the current tools available. Nevertheless, NASA scientists are determined to overcome these hurdles and ensure the safe extraction of all the material from the sampler head for further examination.
In accordance with meticulous preservation methods and stringent regulations, measures have been put in place to maintain the integrity of the sample. The scientists are required to work in a nitrogen-rich environment to prevent any contamination and preserve the asteroid material in pristine condition.
Looking ahead, NASA plans to distribute 25% of the samples to more than 200 scientists at 25 different facilities worldwide. This collaborative effort will enable extensive research on the samples, maximizing the potential of the valuable materials acquired from Bennu. Additionally, smaller portions of the sample will be distributed to the Canadian Space Agency and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), fostering international cooperation in the realm of space exploration.
The majority of the samples will be stored at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, ensuring their availability for future research and analysis. This repository of knowledge will serve as an invaluable resource for scientists and space enthusiasts, fueling further discoveries about the origins of our solar system and the mysteries that lie beyond.
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