NASA has finally pried the lid off a precious sample of pristine material dating back to the early history of the Solar System, collected by the OSIRIS-REx mission from the asteroid Bennu.
19th Jan 2024: We’ve all been there. You have your favourite source, jam or sandwich spread. Try as you might, the #$#&#!! lid is jammed on and cannot get it off no matter what you try. (I’m going to admit that I’ve given up on hot water, various tools etc – I just slam the lids stuck jars on a hard surface face first and this normally works.)
The daring OSIRIS-REx mission to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu launched in 2016 and arrived at Bennu in 2018.
Bennu was selected as a destination for OSIRIS-REx as it a carbon rich body that contains pristine material from the earliest days of the Solar System. In fact, it’s thought that Bennu was already formed within 10 million years of the Solar System’s formation.
Image credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
OSIRIS-REx spent a couple of years exploring the environment around Bennu and even landing on the asteroid to collect samples.
The spacecraft returned to Earth, but didn’t land. It passed by us on the way to its next next destination – the asteroid Apophis. It dropped off a sample canister which safely landed in the Utah dessert on the 23rd of September 2023.
The samples collected from outside the main sample container or AGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) were much greater than expected, 70.3g versus the planned 60g. Curation and study of these precious materials has already begun.
However, accessing the main sample material in the AGSAM has proved somewhat more difficult. None of the tools rated by NASA for use in the extreme clean environment developed for study of these materials were able to remove the lid of the container! Two stuck fasteners prevented the opening. Rather than slamming it on a desk or prying the lid off with a screwdriver in a rush to see what’s inside, NASA developed additional tools, tested them and the procedure for removing the stubborn fasteners before finally successfully extracting them and opening the container this week.
Next comes imaging and study of the materials in the container before their careful extraction and cataloguing and eventual distribution to institutions for research. NASA will make their results publicly available for scientists globally. More on this here. If this seems like a lot to go through for some space rocks, remember these were formed when our Solar System was a tiny fraction its current age.
The Peregrine Lunar lander splashed down in the Pacific ocean earlier today after major hardware failures prevented it landing on the Moon. It took a “free return” path back to Earth after looping around the Moon
The Earth from the final image taken by Peregrine-1 as it returned for a crash landing in the Pacific Ocean.
The Peregrine-1 mission had ended. Hopefully the team will be looking at the data collected over the course of the last week or so to help make the next landing attempt a success.
The first Lunar lander from Japan is expected to touch down in the next day or so.