"We opened up the canister today, and we did see that there is some black dust-like material..."
Earlier this week, a capsule screamed through the Earth's atmosphere at around 27,000 mph, delivering an incredibly rare package: roughly half a pound of material collected from an asteroid tens of millions of miles away.
NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, which launched seven years ago, was designed to shed new light on our understanding of the earliest stages of our solar system — and scientists are about to finally start analyzing their long-awaited treasure from the asteroid Bennu.
The capsule landed in the Utah desert on Sunday, well within NASA's pre-determined landing strip. It was quickly delivered by air to a special curation facility at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston soon afterward.
And yesterday, scientists finally got to crack open the canister.
"We opened up the canister today, and we did see that there is some black dust-like material that's visible," Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, told Ars Technica.
"We're hoping that's from Bennu," he added. "There's good indication that we might have sample."
NASA's small spacecraft took specimens from the tiny 1,600-foot asteroid back in 2020 after extending a robotic arm and making brief contact with its dusty surface.
We still don't know how exactly much rock OSIRIS-REx managed to pick up or whether it managed to pick up any larger rocks and not just dust.
That's because scientists have yet to crack open the actual device that took the original samples, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), which is stored inside the canister they opened.
Scientists expect most of the sample to be present inside the sampling mechanism of the TAGSAM device, per NASA, but even just analyzing the dust from the rest of the recovered assembly could give them early glimpses of what's still to come.
Regardless, scientists are eager to pore over the evidence, meaning that we might get some answers soon. In the meantime, Lauretta told Ars that there's a complicated process of distributing samples to international partners and preserving them.
"I'm thrilled here because this is the moment we've been dreaming of," he told the publication. "We can see the thing that touched Bennu is now in our laboratories."
"Of course, we can't wait to get inside," Lauretta added.
More on the mission: NASA Probe to Drop Off Asteroid Samples After 7 Years in Space
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