Mysterious black dust forces scientists to halt work on Bennu asteroid sample

A mysterious black dust has stopped NASA experts from analysing the asteroid samples which crashed to Earth on Sunday (September 24).

After completing a 63,000 mile journey from the Osiris-Rex spacecraft, the small capsule containing samples from the Bennu asteroid landed in the Utah desert in the United States at around 3.53pm UK time on Sunday (September 24). Bennu has been dubbed the Solar System's “most dangerous asteroid”, and experts are hoping the samples could help inform possible deterrents should it head towards us on its fly-past in September 2182.

Although the chances of it hitting us are not certain by any means, the samples could hold the key to our future safety.

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However, after scientists cracked open the OSIRIS-REx science canister at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Tuesday, they halted work due to the presence of unidentified "black dust and debris". With the lid open, researchers were able to assess the so-called Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) on top of the avionics deck.

A NASA spokesman explained: “Scientists and engineers removed the lid and saw black dust and debris on the surfaces of the avionics deck and TAGSAM. This dust will undergo a quick-look analysis to determine if it is in fact material from the asteroid Bennu.

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“When the TAGSAM is separated from the canister, it will be inserted in a sealed transfer container to preserve a nitrogen environment for up to about two hours. This container allows enough time for the team to insert the TAGSAM into another unique glovebox.

“Ultimately, this speeds up the disassembly process. There is a very high level of focus from the team — the sample will be revealed with an amazing amount of precision to accommodate delicate hardware removal so as not to come into contact with the sample inside.”

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NASA is due to hold a press conference at some point in the next few weeks to detail their preliminary findings from the asteroid dust sample.

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