NASA’s recent mission to return asteroid Bennu material has yielded exciting results, with three museums chosen to display small samples of the precious rocks. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., Space Center Houston in Texas, and the University of Arizona’s Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum in Tucson have been selected as the lucky venues.
The Smithsonian will be receiving two samples, one for research purposes and one for public display. The Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum will unveil their sample in November. Space Center Houston is enthusiastic about sharing this scientific triumph with visitors, as it represents a unique opportunity to experience a piece of the cosmos firsthand.
While the size and nature of the material to be displayed are still being determined, it is estimated that the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule contains about half a pound (8.8 ounces or 250 grams) of rocks and soil. Interestingly, the spacecraft landed with more material than initially anticipated, with a possible four times the targeted amount. This unexpected surplus will be distributed to a team of over 200 researchers from more than 35 institutions worldwide for scientific study.
NASA plans to release a sample catalog six months after the return, and additional material from Bennu will be made available for further research. In the spirit of international collaboration, a portion of the material will be provided to the Canadian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency as part of ongoing partnerships. However, the majority of the material will be kept at the Johnson Space Center, with a backup securely stored in White Sands, New Mexico.
This mission marks the third U.S. interplanetary endeavor to bring back collected material, following the Stardust mission and the Genesis mission. The prominence of such missions was initially established by the display of Apollo moon rocks at museums, which today are owned by 135 nations, U.S. states, and U.S. provinces. The Stardust sample return capsule is already on exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and now, the newly acquired Bennu samples will provide visitors with a fresh glimpse into the wonders and mysteries of space.
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