After finally removing the final two fasteners on the canister and nearly 4 months after it was dropped in the Utah desert by OSIRIS-REx, the curation team at NASA has finally revealed the remaining sample of asteroid Bennu.
The last two fasteners were removed on January 10, allowing the team to complete the last steps of opening the Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism (TAGSAM) head and finally providing access to the remaining sample. Prior to the lid removal, the team had already collected 70.3 grams (2.48 ounces) of asteroid material.
Creative lead Erika Blumenfeld and project lead Joe Aebersold of the Advanced Imaging and Visualization of Astromaterials team snapped the above photo, giving a highly detailed, top-down view of the sample using manual high-resolution precision photography and a semi-automated focus stacking procedure.
The next step for the curation team will be to remove the metal collar surrounding the canister and then prepare a glovebox that will be used to transfer the sample from the TAGSAM head into sample trays. Then, the trays will be photographed and weighed, before being packaged up and stored at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
It’s been a long road to get to this point. OSIRIS-REx successfully dropped the capsule containing the Bennu sample back in September 2023, but trying to get into the canister inside proved to be trickier than anticipated. Two of the fasteners couldn’t be removed and so the team had to come up with a new game plan. Eventually, on January 10 this year, the problem was solved.
“Our engineers and scientists have worked tirelessly behind the scenes for months to not only process the more than 70 grams of material we were able to access previously, but also design, develop, and test new tools that allowed us to move past this hurdle,” said Eileen Stansbery, division chief for ARES (Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science) at NASA's Johnson Space Center, in a statement.
“The innovation and dedication of this team has been remarkable. We are all excited to see the remaining treasure OSIRIS-REx holds.”
Although a portion of the sample is already available for the general public to see, it’ll be a while before we know the full details of what the sample has to say about asteroid Bennu. The coming weeks will give the team a chance to assess the final mass of the sample, which has already surpassed their goal of 60 grams (2.12 ounces). It’s expected that the catalog of all the Bennu samples will be released later this year.