WASHINGTON – The U.S. space agency said Wednesday that it likely succeeded in collecting samples through a spacecraft touchdown on asteroid Bennu a day earlier, based on images that captured the activities.
“Everything that we can see from these initial images indicates sampling success,” Dante Lauretta, a University of Arizona scientist who leads NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, told an online news conference, although noting that verification activities will continue.
As part of the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Tuesday unfurled its robotic arm to touch the surface of Bennu for six seconds, according to NASA.
Images unveiled Wednesday showed the disk-shaped sample collector attached at the end of the arm making contact with the surface of the asteroid and crushing some rocks underneath it. The collector, which is 30 centimeters in diameter, then fired nitrogen gas to stir up and lift rocks and dust for capture.
The spacecraft is believed to have spent approximately 5 of the 6 seconds of contact collecting surface material, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.
NASA intends to obtain samples of between 60 grams and 2 kilograms for delivery to Earth in 2023. It plans to exchange samples with Japan’s space agency, which is expecting to get samples from the asteroid Ryugu taken by its Hayabusa2 explorer, currently on its way back.
Hayabusa2, which is smaller than the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, has aimed to collect 0.1 gram of material.
Asteroids are remnants left over from the early formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago, and studying them is expected to provide fresh insights into the formation of the solar system and the origin of life.
Bennu, a diamond-shaped asteroid measuring 500 meters in diameter, is currently more than 300 million kilometers away from Earth.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.