The NASA probe that picked up debris from the asteroid Bennu on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday is losing part of its load. The American space agency suspects that some stones are trapped between the bin where the debris is stored and the valve that closes the bucket. “Bennu keeps surprising us with great science and also a few feints,” said Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA. The researchers think the leaky bin will “not pose a serious problem” to the investigation, but are rushing to put the material away.
After a four-year journey, the probe managed to take a sample on Bennu earlier this week. The aim was to collect sixty grams of material. The exact amount of grit that ended up in the container is no longer investigated precisely because of the leakage; scientists have determined that it will be more than sufficient anyway. The collected grit is now stored as quickly as possible in a special capsule that allows it to be safely transported to Earth to prevent further loss.
Read more about this mission: Success: probe descends to asteroid Bennu to collect debris
Scientists hope to learn more about the formation of the rocky planets in our solar system with Bennu’s grit. The composition of this asteroid resembles that of the objects of which our neighboring planets and the earth are also made. There have already been similar missions to retrieve space material. These so-called sample-return missions have yielded materials from the moon, sun and other asteroids.
The probe, called Osiris-REx, is still in good condition, according to NASA. He is scheduled to begin the return journey to Earth in March, arriving 2.5 years later. NASA and the researchers are eagerly awaiting this, Zurbuchen said. “We are very curious about this seemingly abundant monster that will continue to inspire science decades after this historic moment.”