Earlier in May, NASA successfully collected rock samples from the asteroid Bennu, a relatively small, well-preserved rock music space about 200 million miles from Earth. On Friday, NASA released footage of the spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, approaching and lightly touching the ruined Bennu. The events, seen in the space agency tweet below, show that OSIRIS-REx is carefully descending on Bennu’s rock-strewn surface.
The spacecraft collected about 60 grams, or about two ounces, of fine-grained material during a quick touch-down that lasted less than 16 seconds. To planetary scientists, this asteroid thing is invaluable: Bennu hasn̵7;t changed much since the formation of our solar system (4.5 billion years ago), so the patterns provide a glimpse of our past and how our planets form.
“They are like time capsules from the very beginning of the solar system,” Richard Binzel, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a scientist working on the OSIRIS-REx mission, told Mashable. “This is like sampling the original ingredients to create planets.”
(The first ambitious mission to bring asteroid models back to Earth, Japan’s Hayabusa mission, back in 2010.)
NASA called this effort “the Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event”. This movement is actually a quick “tag” of the Bennu surface. OSIRIS-REx carefully approached the asteroid for more than four hours before lightly touching it down and firing nitrogen gas to stir the debris into Bennu’s collector. After that, the spacecraft quickly exploded.
OSIRIS-REx has captured so much surface material that some of the fine particles have even escaped before the collector is put away for a trip home. The spacecraft is expected to arrive on Earth with priceless cargo on September 24, 2023.