Seven years after the takeoff of the Osiris-Rex probe, a powerful model sent by NASA to space, landed this Sunday in Utah, United States, with the most important asteroid sample in history.
This sample contains 250 grams of material from the asteroid Bennu and was collected in 2020. This amount exceeds that previously collected on two occasions by Japanese missions.
This material “will help better understand the types of asteroids that can threaten Earth” and shed light on “the beginning of the history of the solar system,” said the head of the space agency, Bill Nelson.
This is “the largest sample we have obtained from lunar rocks” during the Apollo mission in 1972, scientist Amy Simon told AFP.
Osiris-Rex landed four hours ahead of schedule, releasing a capsule containing Bennu’s material. The fall, was observed by military sensors and stopped by two parachutes.
Its entry into the earth over 44 thousand kilometers per hour and reached a temperature of 2,700 degrees Celsius. When the fall is over, the capsule is picked up by specialized personnel, wearing special gloves and masks, to be taken to a helicopter.
The capsule should be exposed to the desert sand for as short a time as possible to avoid any contamination of the sample that could distort subsequent analyses.
The test is expected to arrive in an airtight box at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where it will undergo a delicate study process that will last several days. The final results are expected to be revealed on October 11 during a press conference.
It is also planned that part of the sample will be preserved for the study of future generations and that only 25% will be used for experiments. The other remaining percentage will be shared by partners, Japan and Canada.
Asteroids are composed of the original materials of the solar system, which, unlike Earth, remain intact. It contains “clues about how the solar system formed and evolved,” explained Melissa Morris, director of NASA’s Osiris-Rex program. “This is the story of our own origins.”
By crashing into our planet, “we think that asteroids and comets brought organic matter, possibly water, that helped develop life on Earth,” Simon said.
Scientists believe that Bennu (500 meters in diameter) is rich in carbon and contains water molecules wrapped in minerals.
The surface of the asteroid turned out to be less dense than expected. A better understanding of its composition will be useful in the future.
There is a small risk (one chance in 2,700) that Bennu will hit Earth in 2182, which would be catastrophic. In 2022, NASA managed to divert the trajectory of an asteroid by impacting it.