NASA has collected 121 grams of samples from the asteroid Bennu

When OSIRIS-REx dropped its capsule in the Utah desert last year, it made headlines around the world for returning NASA’s first asteroid samples to Earth. Scientists are eager to get samples of the asteroid Bennu to learn about the early formation of the solar system, but actually getting them has proven more difficult than imagined.

Scientists were able to extract 70 grams of material from the sample tube with relative ease, making it the largest asteroid sample ever brought to Earth, but two troublesome fasteners made it difficult to extract the remainder of the sample. The team knew there was more sample inside, but they had to be patient because a new special tool had been created that could remove the fasteners without losing a single gram of the precious sample.

View of eight sample trays containing final material from the asteroid Bennu. Dust and rocks are poured into the tray from the overhead plate of the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM). 51.2 grams were collected from this pour, bringing the final mass of the asteroid sample to 121.6 grams. NASA/Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebersold

Now, NASA has revealed that the mission delivered a total of 4.29 ounces (121.6 grams) of material from Bennu, more than double the mission’s target of 60 grams. The team was able to completely remove the problematic fasteners in January of this year and completely disassemble the part that holds the sample, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head. This allowed the researchers to access the remaining 51 grams to complement the 70 grams collected previously.

Next, the samples will be shared between NASA and various US and international research organizations. This included sending some samples to the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, which was responsible for the first return of samples to Earth with the Hayabusa and Hayabusa 2 missions, which delivered samples in 2010 and 2020 respectively. JAXA shared some of the 5 gram samples he collected from the asteroid Ryugu to NASA, and now NASA will share some of its samples from Bennu in return.

Some Bennu samples will also be set aside for preservation to be examined with new and more powerful instruments as they improve over time. NASA say they will store at least 70% of the samples at the Johnson Space Center facility in Houston “for further study by scientists around the world, including future generations.”

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