Retrieved Asteroid Material Arrives on Earth!
The mission's capsule, having landed in Utah (NASA)
Yesterday on September 24, an asteroid touched down in Utah’s West Desert, or at least part of one did. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has completed the space agency’s first mission to retrieve material from an asteroid; it follows two similar JAXA missions that returned in 2010 and 2020. OSIRIS-REx’s return is the culmination of a seven-year mission timeline, following its launch in 2016, its arrival at near-Earth 101955 Bennu in 2018, two additional years to survey the asteroid before landing, collecting samples, and returning to Earth with 8.8 ounces of material.
OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security—Regolith Explorer) may be able to shed light on the early formation of our solar system and study Bennu itself, a potentially hazardous object, or PHO. If Bennu does impact Earth, it is a long way off in 2182, but study of the asteroid will allow speculation on similar near-Earth objects. OSIRIS-REx, having now released its capsule of material, is on to 99942 Apophis, another PHO, which it will reach by 2029. Even near-Earth objects are a long way off!
OSIRIS-REx touching down on Bennu. (NASA)
After its touchdown, the Bennu material was held in a clean room at the nearby Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range where it was subject to a nitrogen purge. Being an inert gas, nitrogen allows NASA to preserve the material and keep it uncontaminated by material on Earth. Today on September 25, the material will be flown to Houston’s Johnson Space Center for initial inspections. From there, it will be studied by NASA and its various partners, including Canada’s CSA and Japan’s JAXA, which both contributed to the project.
Beyond studying the early solar system, Bennu also has the potential to tell us about the origins of life on our own planet. The rock boasts simple organic compounds that are the building blocks of life, and its materials suggest its surface came into contact with liquid water. It is possible that such materials were brought to Earth on a similar meteorite billions of years ago, originating life on our planet. What exactly the material from 101955 Bennu will tell us can only be speculated at now, but this is an exciting beginning to a study that could shed much light on our planet, our solar system, and the asteroids that crisscross through it.
It might be tough to get your hands on some Bennu dust yourself, but Mini Museum is proud to offer material from the Allende meteorite which holds material from the formation of our solar system. Check it out!