NASA said scientists gasped when they removed the lid from the capsule that OSIRIS-REx delivered to Earth over the weekend. No wonder: this is the final point of a seven-year mission to return the largest asteroid sample to date. Inside, The team found “dark dust and sand-sized particles.” The US space agency announced this on Wednesday.

The capsule was released last Sunday in the Utah desert in the United States by the OSIRI-Rex space probe. The NASA spacecraft launched in 2016. It traveled 3 billion kilometers to reach Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid discovered in 1999. It took two years to arrive, spending three years orbiting the asteroid and then flying for another two years to return to Earth.

Scientists have calculated that The capsule contains about 250 grams of Bennu’s remains.. NASA has not yet confirmed this information. They also did not explain the nature of the dark powder and particles they saw when they opened the capsule lid. They will keep part of the secret until next October 11, when they will officially present their first results to the whole world.

After landing, the capsule was taken to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. This place houses the largest collection of astromaterials in the world.

Although the capsule has already been opened, the complex process of disassembling the Touch and Go Sample Collection Mechanism (TAGSAM) is still ongoing. This way they will get to the last container that contains the main sample.

The open cover of the OSIRIS-REx capsule at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

This was the OSIRIS-REx capsule verification process.

OSIRIS-REx reached the asteroid in 2018. But the sample collection process was carried out only in October 2020. At this key moment, the probe got close enough to Benn and deployed a vacuum cleaner about three meters long. It touched its surface for a few moments, sucking up dust and stones.

During this operation NASA realized that the lid of the collection container could not close completely. Part of the sample actually escaped. Fortunately, the mission team was able to salvage what was left and ensure the success of the project. It’s possible that part of what they just discovered when they opened the lid corresponds to the part of the sample that leaked out of the main container at that moment.

Osiris-rex on Bennu.
Images taken on October 20, 2020 by NASA while collecting samples from the asteroid Bennu. Credit: POT.

NASA explained that all tests of the capsule are carried out in a new laboratory created specifically for the OSIRIS-REx mission. The space agency shared photos of the moment they removed the aluminum cover inside the glove box, designed to handle large hardware.

“There is a very high level of concentration on the part of the team”This is stated in a statement from NASA. “The sample will be detected with amazing precision, allowing the equipment to be removed delicately without coming into contact with the sample inside.”

This process involves a diverse group of scientists and engineers. They call these types of samples “time capsules.” Bennu is believed to contain remnants of the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years old. Therefore, what this capsule brought back can help us understand how the Earth was created and how life arose on it. Part of the sample will also be reserved for research in the coming decades using technology that will improve over the years.

NASA illustration of OSIRIS-REx arriving at Bennu.
NASA illustration of OSIRIS-REx arriving at Bennu.

Source: Hiper Textual

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