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Thursday, December 01, 2022

Walking on asteroid Bennu would be like stepping into a ball pit, says NASA

In October 2020, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft briefly landed on Bennu and collected a sample to return to Earth.

In October 2020, a small spacecraft briefly landed on an asteroid to take a piece of it to bring to earth. Nearly two years later, scientists discovered that if the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft had extended its stay just a little bit longer, it would have sunk straight into the asteroid.

That’s because the asteroid Bennu is nothing like scientists had predicted. Instead of being solid, flying rock, Bennu is actually made up of tiny pebble-like particles that aren’t tightly held together, creating a lot of space on its surface. It is more comparable to a plastic ball pit, NASA writes in a new release. “Our expectations about the asteroid’s surface were completely wrong” Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx and lead author of a recent paper detailing the findingssaid at launch.

OSIRIS-REx arrived at the asteroid in December 2018 with a mission to retrieve a sample of Bennu and load it to Earth for analysis. The spacecraft landed on Bennu in October 2020, reaching out with its robotic arm to grab a piece of the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx then immediately fired its thrusters to move away from Bennu. The spacecraft’s sampling head touched the surface of Bennu for approximately 6 seconds before retreating. By stirring up some of the asteroid’s dust and pebbles, OSIRIS-REx was able to pick up a few grams of material..

OSIRIS-REx Sample Collection on Asteroid Bennu: SamCam View of TAGSAM

The brief encounter left a good impression Bennu, resulting in a chaotic explosion of pebbles it is a crater 26 feet (8 meters) wide. “Every time we tested the sample collection procedure in the lab, we barely made a clod,” Lauretta said. But after reviewing the footage of the real sample collection, scientists were confused. “What we saw was a huge wall of debris radiating from the sample site,” Lauretta said. “We were like, ‘Damn!’”

After analyzing the volume of debris seen in before-and-after the images of landing site, scientists learned that OSIRIS-REx faced as much resistance when landing on the asteroid as “a person would feel when squeezing the plunger on a French press coffee jar,” NASA wrote in a statement. declaration. That is, the spacecraft found very little resistance, certainly not the kind of resistance one would expect from landing on a rocky body. When the spacecraft fired its thrusters to departwas sinking into the asteroid.

“If Bennu were completely compacted, that would imply almost solid rock, but we found a lot of empty space on the surface,” Kevin Walsh, member of the OSIRIS-REx science team and lead author of a second paper about the composition of Bennu, said in a statement.

When OSIRIS-REx first arrived at the asteroid, Close up images of Bennu revealed that its surface was littered with boulders, rather than the smooth, sandy surface that had been foreseen. The footage also showed that Bennu was spitting pebbles into space.. “I think we’re still beginning to understand what these bodies are, because they behave in very counter-intuitive ways,” Patrick Michel, an OSIRIS-REx scientist, said in the NASA statement.

Bennu went Full of surprises. One of the first was its strange shape, resembling a childish top.

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