NASA unveils preliminary analyzes of asteroid Bennu sample this morning – Radio-Canada.ca

The American space agency NASA will release on Wednesday the first images of the largest asteroid sample ever collected in space, as well as the first analyzes of its composition, which scientists around the world are eagerly awaiting.

The Osiris-Rex mission took this sample from the asteroid Bennu in 2020, and the capsule containing the precious cargo successfully returned to Earth just over two weeks ago, landing in the American desert.

The sample return capsule of the OSIRIS-REx mission.

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The sample return capsule of the OSIRIS-REx mission.

Photo: NASA/Keegan Barber

Since then, the painstaking process of opening the capsule has taken place in a clean room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. And the operation already has a few surprises in store.

The preservation team processes the returned capsule in a temporary clean room.

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The conservation team processes the returned capsule in a temporary clean room set up specifically for this purpose at the US Army Utah Test and Training Range.

Photo: (NASA/Keegan Barber) / NASA/Keegan Barber

“There is so much material that it will take us longer than expected to recover it,” said NASA scientist Christopher Snead. “But this is the biggest problem we can have,” he added in a press release.

According to the space agency’s estimates, the capsule managed to pick up around 250 grams of material from the asteroid Bennu before landing – far more than two previous Japanese missions to other asteroids.

NASA, for which such a maneuver was a first, must confirm this estimate on Wednesday at a public event and then a press conference.

But the feedback so far couldn’t be more positive.

An abundance of material was also found outside the collection compartment, explained Christopher Snead. It’s really spectacular.

black dust

The pleasant surprise can be explained by an incident during sample collection: Shortly after the operation, NASA discovered that the collection compartment flap could not be closed.

The cargo was secured by being transferred into the capsule as planned. However, because of this leak, scientists expected that residue would be found outside the compartment in the box that housed it.

This black dust and debris was given to a rapid analysis team to get an initial idea of ​​Bennu’s composition, according to NASA.

The sample is examined using a scanning electron microscope, X-ray diffraction and infrared measurements.

This should make it possible to obtain an inventory of the minerals observed and possibly determine their proportion. In particular, scientists believe that Bennu contains hydrated minerals.

Studying asteroids should allow scientists to better understand the formation of the solar system and how Earth became habitable.

Some scientists believe that asteroids like Bennu may have brought to Earth the compounds that later enabled life to emerge.

The majority of the sample is preserved to be studied by future generations with new, more efficient instruments and to answer new scientific questions. This was done with the moon rocks brought back during the Apollo program.