NASA scientists have opened a container containing samples taken from the surface of the asteroid Bennu and discovered “unidentifiable” black dust inside. They immediately stopped working with the container.
Samples of the surface of the asteroid Bennu were taken three years ago using the OSIRIS-REx interplanetary station, created specifically for the study of the asteroids Bennu and Apophis.
On October 20, 2020, OSIRIS-REx made contact with the asteroid Bennu and collected about 60 grams of residual rock – regolith – from its surface.
Then the station went to Earth and on September 24, 2023, when it flew past the Earth, a capsule with samples was dropped from an altitude of 102 thousand km.
With the help of a parachute, the capsule made a smooth landing at a military training ground in the desert part of Utah, USA, and the OSIRIS-REx station flew further along a given route, now towards the asteroid Apophis. It will reach it in 2029.
The capsule was examined and opened in a sterile room at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, while scientists wore protective suits.
A mysterious black dust found inside the opened capsule covered both the top of the capsule panel and the sample collection mechanism. This dust was called “unidentified element”.
NASA now says they will study this dust to see if it came from Bennu’s surface like the samples or got inside the capsule through some other route. Meanwhile, the main part of the capsule, which contains the samples from the asteroid themselves, has not yet been opened and will be opened “in the coming weeks.”
So far, it has been cautiously suggested that the dust is “the result of problems during sample collection.” Asteroid Bennu orbits the Sun and is located 81 million kilometers from Earth. It is only 1.5 km in diameter and is believed to be a fragment of a larger asteroid.
Despite its small size, asteroid Bennu is considered the most dangerous object for the Earth in the solar system, since its orbit intersects with the orbit of the Earth. It is expected to come dangerously close to Earth in 2182.