Seven years after his takeoff to the asteroid Bennu, the Osiris-Rex probe has completed a new stage of its mission. The NASA spacecraft released the capsule containing a 250-gram sample taken in 2020 from the asteroid, which landed this Sunday shortly before 3 p.m. UT after a dizzying descent. The fall, observed by army sensors, had to be slowed by two successive parachutes. The main parachute, however, deployed higher than expected, and the capsule landed slightly earlier than expected, a commentator from the American space agency announced on his live video. During the last 13 minutes, this capsule passed through the atmosphere. It entered at more than 44,000 km/h, with a temperature rising up to 2,700°C.
Once the capsule was on the ground, a team equipped with gloves and masks had to ensure its condition, before placing it in a net, then lifted by a helicopter and taken to a temporary “clean room”. The capsule must be exposed to the sand of the American desert for as short a time as possible, in order to avoid any contamination of the sample which could distort subsequent analyses. On Monday, it will be flown to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This is where the box will be opened, in another airtight room. The process will take days. NASA is planning a press conference on October 11 to reveal initial results.
« The return of this sample is truly historic “, Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA, told AFP before landing. It’s about ” largest sample we bring back from lunar rocks » of the Apollo program, concluded in 1972. It must “ help us better understand the types of asteroids that could threaten Earth ”, and illuminate “ the very beginning of the history of our solar system », Underlined the boss of the space agency, Bill Nelson.
The majority of the sample will be preserved for study by future generations. About 25% will be immediately used for experiments, and a small part will be shared with partners Japan and Canada. Japan itself gave NASA some grains from the asteroid Ryugu, of which it brought back 5.4 grams in 2020, during the Hayabusa-2 mission. In 2010, he reported a microscopic amount from another asteroid. This time, Bennu’s sample is ” much bigger, so we will be able to do much more analysis “, underlined Amy Simon.
Asteroids are composed of the original materials of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago. Unlike Earth, they remained intact. They therefore hold “ clues to how the solar system formed and evolved “, declared Melissa Morris, head of the Osiris-Rex program at NASA, at a press conference. “ This is the story of our own origin “. By hitting our planet, “ we believe that asteroids and comets brought organic matter, potentially water, that helped life develop on Earth “, explained Amy Simon.
Scientists believe that Bennu (500 meters in diameter) is rich in carbon, and contains water molecules locked in minerals. The asteroid also surprised scientists: its surface turned out to be less dense than expected during sample collection. However, better understanding its composition could prove useful in the future.
As soon as its cargo was released, the Osiris-Rex probe continued its mission. She set off to visit another asteroid.
#Asteroid #sample #OsirisRex #landed #United #States