NASA’s Historic Asteroid Bennu Sample Is Leaking Into Space
NASA’s collection of the asteroid Bennu sample has proven so successful that some of it is leaking into space.
The historic moment happened on Tuesday, October 20, which saw NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collect a huge sample of the asteroid’s surface.
While this is great news, the spacecraft managed to collect so much that it’s overfilled causing the ship’s flap to be unable to properly close. As a consequence, some of the particles are now leaking into space as the OSIRIS-REx makes its way back to Earth.
Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson, announced the news yesterday, October 23, at a press conference.
As per CNN, he said, ‘The big concern now is that particles are escaping because we’re almost a victim of our own success. Large particles left the flap open. Particles are diffusing out into space. They aren’t moving fast, but nonetheless, it’s valuable scientific material.’
Teams at NASA discovered this on Thursday, October 22, after analysing photographs taken of the spacecraft and believe that they could be losing five to ten grams of the sample each day. With OSIRIS-REx not returning to Earth until 2023, this could prove quite costly to the sample size.
Apparently the aim is to get at least 60 grams of the sample back to Earth and following Tuesday’s collection, OSIRIS-REx managed to grab an impressive 400 grams of material.
With this in mind, the loss of some of the sample isn’t too serious as long as they get that 60 grams back – something the mission team is apparently confident they will get.
We are working to keep up with our own success here, and my job is to safely return as large a sample of Bennu as possible. The loss of mass is of concern to me, so I’m strongly encouraging the team to stow this precious sample as quickly as possible.
The sample from Bennu is hugely important because it’s thought that the asteroid’s surface contains material from the early solar system and may contain the molecular precursors to life and Earth’s oceans, according to EarthSky.
Located 200 million miles away from Earth, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been orbiting the asteroid since December 2018 – so Tuesday’s sample collection has been highly anticipated.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, said the large asteroid continues to surprise them with ‘great science’ as well as ‘a few curveballs’.
He continued, ‘Although we may have to move more quickly to stow the sample, it’s not a bad problem to have. We are so excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment.’
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