NASA revealing OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample today: Watch it live (Image Credit: Space.com)
NASA will unveil to the world today (Oct. 10) the fruits of its first asteroid sample-return mission.
You can watch the event live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA, or directly via the agency.
The $1.2 billion OSIRIS-REx mission launched in September 2016 toward the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, a carbon-rich space rock about 1,650 feet (500 meters) wide.
The probe reached its target in December 2018, setting a record for the smallest cosmic object ever orbited by a spacecraft. In October 2020, OSIRIS-REx swooped down and grabbed a sample from Bennu, sinking surprisingly deeply into the asteroid’s surface in the process.
The following May, OSIRIS-REx began the long journey back to Earth. That trek culminated with the parachute-aided touchdown of the probe’s return capsule in the desert of northern Utah on Sept. 24.
The precious cargo hauled home by that capsule is now at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. JSC personnel are processing, curating and storing the Bennu material, which researchers around the world will study for years to come, looking for clues about the solar system’s early days and how life got its start on Earth. (Some scientists think Bennu-like asteroids seeded our planet with organic molecules — the carbon-containing building blocks of life — via impacts long ago.)
Mission team members have already begun analyzing some of the asteroid material. They’ll reveal some of their early results during today’s webcast, NASA officials said.
We’ll also get a good look at the sample and, in all likelihood, learn just how much of it there is. The mission team said that OSIRIS-REx snagged about 8.8 ounces (250 grams) of Bennu grit during its sampling dive, but that was just a prelanding estimate. (OSIRIS-REx was supposed to return at least 2.1 ounces, or 60 g, of material, a target that it almost certainly met.)
Only the OSIRIS-REx return capsule landed in Utah last month. The larger spacecraft flew past Earth, on its way to another asteroid — the notorious Apophis. The probe is scheduled to reach Apophis in 2029 and study it in depth, on an extended mission called OSIRIS-APEX.