NASA scientists discovered “black dust and debris” when they open the space capsule that recently arrived to Earth with the biggest asteroid sample ever brought back from space.
According to NASA, “dust and debris on the avionics deck of the Osiris-REx science canister when the initial lid was removed today” were discovered.
The space agency did not say whether the materials detected after the probe’s lid was opened belonged to the asteroid, but on social media, NASA reported that “scientists gasped as the lid was removed from the [Osiris-REx] asteroids sample return canister.”
“A scientific treasure box,” NASA Astromaterials wrote on social media.
“Dark powder and sand-sized particles” were discovered on “the inside of the lid and base” .
The residue discovered on the avionics deck on Tuesday was most likely caused by challenges during the space mission’s collecting phase, which NASA stated were eventually resolved, allowing for the secure transfer of the sample from the asteroid to the probe’s storage canister.
The lid of the probe was opened in an airtight chamber at Houston’s Johnson Space Center.
“The aluminium lid was removed inside a glovebox designed to enable working with the large piece of hardware,” NASA said in a statement, which was accompanied by photographs shared on social media of scientists wearing full safety gear working with the probe sitting inside a reinforced glass and steel box.
NASA experts are now eager to begin analyzing the majority of the asteroid sample, which will necessitate “intricate disassembly” of the probe, according to the agency.
On October 11, the public will be given information on the majority of the sample at a news conference.
OSIRIS-REx, a robotic spacecraft launched in 2016, obtained its specimen three years ago from Bennu, a tiny, carbon-rich asteroid discovered in 1999 and categorized as a “near-Earth object” since it passes relatively close to our planet every six years.
The recovery was just the third, and by far the largest, asteroid sample ever returned to Earth for analysis, following two previous missions by Japan’s space agency that ended in 2010 and 2020, respectively.
Osiris-Rex landed on the asteroid and gathered approximately 250 grams (9 ounces) of dust from its rocky surface. Scientists believe that analyzing the asteroid material will help them better understand the creation of the solar system and how Earth became habitable.
The sample will also “help us better understand the kinds of asteroids that might harm Earth,” according to NASA.
Though the chances of Bennu colliding with Earth are minimal, it has not been entirely out.
A quarter of the the planet Bennu sample will be used immediately in tests, a tiny portion will be given to mission colleagues in Japan and Canada, and the remaining will be saved for future generations to study.
After a blazing descent through Earth’s atmosphere, the space probe parachuted down in the desert of Utah’s western state on Sunday, ending its 6.21-billion-kilometer (3.86-billion-mile) trip.