NASA Mission Reveals Asteroid Has Big Surprises

NASA's plan to scoop up dirt from asteroid hits a snag

NASA's plan to scoop up dirt from asteroid hits a snag

He explained that in 2020, mission scientists will nudge OSIRIS-REx to within a few feet of Bennu, using the spacecraft's retractable arm to collect a sample of material from the surface.

The mission team is now updating its plans for sample collection, known as Touch-and-Go (TAG); the new approach, called Bullseye TAG, aims to accurately target smaller sites.

The target of NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, Bennu may contain unaltered material from the beginning of our Solar System.

Lauretta mentioned the plume discovery at Bennu was one of many greatest surprises of his scientific profession.

"Bennu is already surprising us", Lauretta said.

The mission team spotted the particle plumes first in images taken from the spacecraft 1.61 kilometres away on 6 January. Although numerous particles were ejected clear of asteroid, some particles orbited Bennu as satellites before returning to the asteroid's surface, according to NASA. "However, numerous large impact craters as well as very large, fractured boulders scattered across Bennu's surface look ancient".

Asteroid Bennu as imaged by the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft.

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"The scientists are interested in the composition of Bennu because similar objects may have seeded the Earth with water and organic materials", said the study's lead author Victoria Hamilton from the Southwest Research Institute.

They've recently made some interesting discoveries that could give us clues to the origins of earth's water and potential life in other solar systems.

Another surprise Bennu had been withholding was that it emits particles which fall back to the surface like rain. Not only is Bennu shooting particles out into the void, but the asteroid is also much more rugged than scientists originally thought - which may make it a little bit harder for the spacecraft to grab a sample.

Instead of a smooth surface sprinkled with a few large boulders, scientists discovered a rough, rocky planetoid spewing plumes of dust and gravel. However, most scientists think additional water was delivered in part by comets and pieces of asteroids, including water-bearing carbonaceous meteorites, Hamilton said.

"This is what discovery is all about - surprises, quick thinking and doing what it takes to get good science", said Lori Glaze, acting director of NASA's planetary-science division. "You can see from this image this isn't it", said OSIRIS-REx project manager Rich Burns of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

At the moment, the eruptions pose more questions than the OSIRIS-REx team have answers. Another possibility is that water ice beneath its surface (which itself isn't a guarantee) sublimates into vapor when the asteroid approaches the Sun, jettisoning particles in response to the heat. But it also matters for the lifespan of Bennu, he added.

The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed. It turns out that Bennu's spin is speeding up at a rate of roughly one second every 100 years. Sandy regions are ideal for grabbing a small collection of particles, especially with the sampler attached to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2 were two missions that were subject of briefings today and NASA held its own OSIRIS-REx media teleconference this afternoon.

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