How Asteroid Bennu’s Sample Container was Finally Opened

Rebecca Jean T.
4 min readFeb 23, 2024

After launching in 2016, the team behind the asteroid Bennu sample return mission has successfully opened the lid of the collection container, revealing even more material than they could have hoped for. The excess material will allow even more scientists to get their hands on a piece of Bennu and study the asteroid and its connection to our planet.

A black and white image of a rounded diamond shaped asteroid with a rocky, gravel surface. The background is black.
The surface of Bennu. This image is a mosaic of 12 images taken by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on December 2nd, 2018. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

In September of 2023, spacecraft OSIRIS-REx returned to Earth after a multi-year mission to near-Earth asteroid Bennu. While it didn’t land, it did drop off a very special package, the first sample from an asteroid collected by NASA. The Bennu sample was collected from the Utah desert, and the outer capsule was opened and revealed to the public a few weeks later. Initial results were incredibly promising, with 70.3 grams of material waiting, exceeding the mission goal of 60 grams before the inner container had even been opened.

All early research was conducted on this portion of the sample, which included the small rocks and dust found on the outside of the sampler head and a small portion of the sample contained inside, which was obtained through a mylar flap on the head. The initial studies found that the sample contained both water and carbon, important building blocks for life. This research complements theories that these building blocks may have been brought to Earth by…

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Rebecca Jean T.

Published author on NASA’s Radio Jove project. Researching science topics to deliver to you in bite-sized stories.