Scientists took a first look at samples collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and accidentally discovered more than they expected. When researchers opened the container containing the sample on September 26, they found a large amount of black, fine-grained material inside the lid and bottom of the container, surrounding a device designed to collect foreign rocks and soil. These unexpected pieces of debris can reveal important insights about the asteroid before the main sample is analyzed. The probe’s historic landing in the Utah desert on Sept. 24 marked the culmination of NASA’s seven-year OSIRIS-Rex mission, which traveled to Bennu, about 200 million miles (320 million kilometers) from Earth, landed on an asteroid and then flew back to. Land for sample drops. (Total distance traveled: about 3.86 billion miles. The mission team took it a day after arriving at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, a clean room specially designed for careful analysis of space samples.
What Bennu is trying to do can be revealed
Asteroids are remnants of the formation of the Solar System and can give us a glimpse into the early, chaotic days of planet formation and settlement. But near-Earth asteroids also pose a threat to our planet, so understanding their composition and orbits is critical to discovering the best ways to deflect space rocks when they collide with Earth.
In October 2020, when OSIRIS-REx briefly used its TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) to perturb Bennu’s surface and collect a sample, it collected so much material that particles could be seen slowly drifting before being blasted off into space. . The head was placed in a jar. This leads the researchers to believe that they could quickly analyze any material they find after opening the container — there will already be plenty of material before they get to the bulk of the sample inside the robot’s head. , that researchers will have to spend time gathering all the materials.
“The biggest ‘problem’ was that there was so much material that it took longer to collect than we expected,” OSIRIS-REx deputy curatorial director Christopher Snead said in a statement. “There’s a lot of rich material outside of the TAGSAM heads, which is interesting in its own right. It’s great to have so much material.”
The actual asteroid sample won’t be revealed until October 11 during a NASA live broadcast. The TAGSAM head will be moved to a new special glove compartment and carefully disassembled to reveal the sample inside.
Meanwhile, a rapid analysis of samples collected from the outside of TAGSAM’s head is underway and may provide preliminary results from material collected from Bennu. “We have all the microanalytical techniques to really, really break it down to almost the atomic scale,” Lindsay Keller, a member of the OSIRIS-REx sample analysis team, said in a statement.
The team will conduct the first examination of the material collected from Bennu using scanning electron microscopy, X-ray and infrared instruments. Together, these instruments will help scientists understand the chemical composition of the sample, detect any hydrated minerals or organic particles, and reveal the abundance of specific mineral types present in the asteroid.
“You have really first-class people, tools and equipment to test these samples,” Keller said. Preliminary analyzes will help scientists better understand what is happening to the large number of samples collected by Benn.
Scientists believe that asteroids like Bennu may have delivered essential elements such as water to Earth early in its formation, and studying the original samples could answer troubling questions about the origins of the Solar System. Meanwhile, the spacecraft carrying the sample, now named OSIRIS-APEX, is on its way to study the near-Earth asteroid Apophis, which will be close enough to Earth to be seen with the naked eye in 2029.