OSIRIS-REx’s asteroid sample case has been opened for the first time in more than seven years.
Scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston lifted the outer lid of the canister on Tuesday (September 26), two days after the OSIRIS-REx return capsule touched down in the northern Utah desert.
“Scientists gasped when the lid was lifted,” NASA’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Division (ARES), headquartered at JSC, wrote Tuesday in an article. Share on X (formerly Twitter).
They added that the process revealed “dark powder and sand-sized particles inside the lid and base.”
Related: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx rover lands samples from asteroid Bennu on Earth after a historic 4-billion-mile journey.
This powder was located on the surface of an asteroid called Bennu, the focus of the OSIRIS-REx mission.
OSIRIS-REx launched toward the 1,650-foot-wide (500-meter) Bennu in September 2016, arrived in December 2018 and acquired a massive sample of the space rock in October 2020 using the Touch-Based Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM.
The asteroid material landed in Utah inside OSIRIS-REx’s return capsule on Sunday (September 24), then made its way to Houston by plane on Monday (September 25). It will be stored and organized at JSC, where the team will oversee its distribution to scientists around the world.
Researchers will study the sample for decades to come, seeking insights into the formation and early evolution of the solar system, as well as the role carbon-rich asteroids like Bennu may have played in seeding Earth with the essential elements for life.
But this work is not ready to begin; The ARES team hasn’t even been able to access the main asteroid sample yet. Doing so would require disassembling the TAGSAM device, a complex process that would take a long time.
“There is a very high level of focus on the part of the team – the sample will be detected with an amazing amount of precision to accommodate the removal of delicate devices so they do not come into contact with the sample inside,” JSC officials wrote in a letter. Blog post Tuesday.
And speaking of reveals: NASA will reveal the Bennu sample on October 11 at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), during a webcast event you can watch here on Space.com.
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