The asteroid sample collected by Osiris-Rex landed in the United States

The largest asteroid sample ever collected landed this Sunday, September 24 in the Utah desert. It should provide a better understanding of the origin of the solar system.

The capsule containing samples from asteroid Bennu landed shortly before 15 p.m. GMT on a military zone in the Utah desert. AP - Keegan Barber

By: RFI Follow


Read more

Seven years after taking off to asteroid Bennu, the Osiris-Rex probe has completed a new stage of its mission. The NASA craft dropped the capsule containing a sample of 250 grams taken in 2020 on the asteroid, which landed this Sunday shortly before 15h UT at the end of a vertiginous descent. The fall, observed by army sensors, was to be slowed by two successive parachutes. The main parachute, however, deployed higher than expected, and the capsule landed slightly earlier than expected, a commentator for the US space agency said on his live video. During the last 13 minutes, this capsule passed through the atmosphere. It entered at more than 44,000 km/h, with a temperature rising to 2,700 ° C.

Once the capsule was on the ground, a team equipped with gloves and masks had to check its condition, before placing it in a net, then lifted by a helicopter and carried to a temporary "clean room". The capsule should be exposed to the sand of the American desert for as short a time as possible, in order to avoid contamination of the sample that could disferee subsequent analyses. On Monday, it will be flown to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This is where the box will be opened, in another airtight room. The process will take days. NASA is planning a press conference on October 11 to unveil initial results.

See alsoReturn of asteroid samples: a "breakthrough on the issue of the emergence of life"


The return of this sample is truly historic " Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA, told AFP before the landing. This is the "largest sample we bring back from the moon rocks" of the Apollo program, concluded in 1972. It should "help us better understand the types of asteroids that could threaten the Earth," and illuminate "the very beginning of the history of our solar system," said the head of the space agency, Bill Nelson.

The majority of the sample will be retained for study by future generations. About 25% will be immediately used for experiments, and a small portion will be shared with partner Japan and Canada. Japan had itself given NASA some grains from the asteroid Ryugu, of which it had brought back 5.4 grams in 2020, during the Hayabusa-2 mission. In 2010, he reported a microscopic amount of another asteroid. This time, Bennu's sample is "much bigger, so we're going to be able to do a lot more analysis," Simon said.

Asteroids are composed of the original materials of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago. Unlike Earth, they remained intact. So they hold "clues about how the solar system formed and evolved," Melissa Morris, head of NASA's Osiris-Rex program, told a news conference. "This is the story of our own origin." By hitting our planet, "we think that asteroids and comets brought organic matter, potentially water, that helped life develop on Earth," explained Amy Simon.

Scientists believe that Bennu (500 meters in diameter) is rich in carbon, and contains water molecules enclosed in minerals. The asteroid also surprised scientists: its surface turned out to be less dense than expected during the collection of the sample. A better understanding of its composition could prove useful in the future.

As soon as its cargo was dropped, the Osiris-Rex probe continued its mission. She set out to visit another asteroid.


With AFP)

NewsletterReceive all the international news directly in your mailbox

I subscribe

Follow all the international news by downloading the RFI application


Read on on the same topics:

  • Space
  • United States