NASA has shared a new series of images featuring OSIRIS-REx, the spacecraft that successfully nabbed a sample from the surface of asteroid Bennu. These images show some of the collected material, including larger rocks, escaping from the collection tool on the spacecraft — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. According to the space agency, scientists have a good reason to believe the Bennu sample is ‘plentiful.’
NASA spent months hard at work in an effort leading up to its Bennu asteroid sample collection event this past weekend, one that involved the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and that was successful. Assuming the rest of the mission goes as planned, the spacecraft will safely seal the asteroid sample and deliver it to Earth.
Upon recovering the sealed asteroid sample, scientists will be given the opportunity to study uncontaminated regolith from a distant asteroid, something that may help shed light on the formation of celestial bodies and the history of our solar system.
For this to work, however, NASA notes that a certain minimum amount of regolith must be collected, with that minimum goal being a mere 2 ounces. Based on the images NASA has now shared with the public, the space agency says that it believes OSIRIS-REx has acquired at least this amount at a minimum.
The images show debris leaking from the spacecraft’s Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism due to what the experts believe is a ‘slightly wedged open’ mylar flap designed to keep the collected sample in place. This wedge may be due to larger rocks that weren’t able to pass through, leaving a small space for smaller material to escape from.
The Bennu team is now working to safely stow away this sample as quickly as possible, according to NASA, ensuring as much material as possible is delivered to Earth.