April 19, 2024
Late final yr, a spacecraft containing samples of a 4.6-billion-year-old asteroid landed safely within the desert after a 1.2-billion mile journey. There was just one little drawback: NASA couldn’t get the canister containing its prized rocks open.

After months of tinkering, scientists at NASA’s Johnson Area Heart in Houston lastly dislodged two caught fasteners that had saved the items of the asteroid Bennu out of researchers’ palms.

“It’s open! It’s open!” NASA’s Planetary Science Division posted Friday on X, together with {a photograph} of the slate-colored bounty of mud and small rocks contained in the canister.

Scientists needed to change course on the canister opening effort in mid-October after it grew to become clear that not one of the objects in NASA’s field of permitted instruments may pressure open the final two of 35 fasteners sealing the canister.

To stop the pattern from being contaminated by Earthly air, it has been saved in a clear room within the Houston facility the place hazmat-suited curators delicately dismantled the canister. The crew custom-designed new instruments to pry open the ultimate latches.

The company will now end extracting the roughly 9-ounce pattern, which shall be weighed and chemically analyzed. A lot of the payload from OSIRIS-REx (an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, and Safety-Regolith Explorer) will then be frozen and thoroughly preserved in order that future generations of scientists will be capable to research it with superior applied sciences.

“We’re overjoyed with the success,” NASA’s chief OSIRIS-REx pattern curator, Nicole Lunning, mentioned in an announcement.

It took greater than seven years and roughly $1 billion to carry again a pattern from Bennu, an area rock fashioned throughout the earliest days of the photo voltaic system. The asteroid samples discovered on Earth have primarily been cooked by their searing journey by means of the environment, which limits what scientists can study from them.

With OSIRIS-REx, “the target is to carry again an historic piece of the early photo voltaic system that’s pristine,” NASA astrobiologist Jason Dworkin advised The Instances in September. “You need to use these leftovers of the formation of the photo voltaic system to assemble what occurred in that formation.”

The spacecraft that collected the pattern in 2020 and launched it towards Earth in September is now heading on to its subsequent mission. The craft, now named OSIRIS-APophis EXplorer, or OSIRIS-APEX, is on its technique to a peanut-shaped asteroid named Apophis.

For a brief (however alarming) time, astronomers thought Apophis is perhaps on observe to smash disastrously into Earth. Now that that worrying chance has been dominated out, scientists are eagerly looking forward to 2029, when the asteroid will go nearer to Earth than any object of its measurement ever has.

“It’s one thing that just about by no means occurs, and but we get to witness it in our lifetime,” JPL navigation engineer Davide Farnocchia mentioned final yr. “We normally ship spacecraft on the market to go to asteroids and discover out about them. On this case, it’s nature doing the flyby for us.”