The capsule carrying rock and dust samples from the asteroid Bennu as part of the US Space and Aeronautics Administration’s (NASA) OSIRIS-REx mission landed on Earth recently. NASA officials are reluctant to talk about the contents of the capsule. However, small clues shared with the public indicate that we may receive very exciting news in the coming days.
According to a blog post published on NASA’s website, the sampling process is progressing slower than expected at first. However, this is not due to any negativity. On the contrary, both the interior and exterior of the capsule are covered with so much Bennu dust that researchers have to disassemble the capsule much more slowly and carefully than they had anticipated.
NASA Johnson Space Center researcher Christopher Snead, one of the managers of the OSIRIS-REx mission, said, “The great ‘problem’ we have is that there’s so much material. It’s taking longer than we anticipated to collect it,” said Christopher Snead, a researcher at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
“There’s a lot of material outside the TAGSAM head, which is very interesting in itself, and it’s really extraordinary that all this material is there,” Snead said.
7-year mission ended on September 24
TAGSAM, which stands for “Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism”, is the name of the robotic arm used by OSIRIS-REx to take soil samples from the asteroid Bennu. The landing of the samples from Bennu on September 24 marked the end of a 7-year mission. While the TAGSAM head was released to Earth in a sealed capsule, OSIRIS-REx continued on its way to collect samples from another asteroid.
A significant portion of the samples taken are still inside the sealed TAGSAM head. However, after TAGSAM collected the samples three years ago, it was found to be leaking dust while being placed inside the protective capsule.
So when the researchers opened the capsule on September 26, they expected to find some dust inside. But no one expected to find so much dust.
First images coming this week
NASA experts have already begun analyzing the collected dust. These analyses, which will help to understand the structure of the Bennu asteroid, will also form the basis of the research on the large amount of samples that will come out of the TAGSAM head.
Initial analyses include electron microscopy, infrared measurements and X-ray diffraction. NASA will share the results of these analyses and the first photographs of the sample at a press conference on October 11.
However, we won’t be able to get very detailed information at this press conference either, we need a lot of time for that. As we understand the structure of this small, carbon-rich asteroid, we will learn more about the infancy of the Solar System.
NASA officials stated that there is an estimated 250 grams of Bennu dust in the TAGSAM cap and emphasized that it will take a little more time to open the cap. The head will be transferred to a special glove box in the coming days so that the disassembly process can be carried out safely.