01 November 2023, The Tablet

Missions accomplished – more or less

Across the Universe

Missions accomplished – more or less

The asteroid missions I talked about last month have proceeded as we hoped … more or less. The mission to the metal-rich asteroid Psyche launched on 13 October, while the capsule of materials grabbed from asteroid Bennu has been brought into the receiving lab in Houston – near where the Apollo Moon samples are stored – and its first pieces examined.

But that’s where the “more or less” kicks in. Back in 2020, rocks and dust on Bennu’s surface were blown into a sample container, moving past a Mylar flap that held them in place while the container was put into the capsule that brought it back to Earth. This collection was so efficient, however, that a lot of material wound up outside the flap. Those were the first bits that were examined, even before attempting to open the container. They tell us that asteroid Bennu’s material is similar to some meteorite types we have on Earth, though with some intriguing quirks …

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