NASA spots particle plumes erupting from the surface of asteroid Bennu

NASA spacecraft spots particle plumes erupting from the surface of asteroid Bennu as scientists say they now estimate the object to be up to one BILLION years old

  • Scientists say OSIRIS-Rex observed particle plumes erupting from Bennu’s surface in a ‘surprising’ find
  • The early observations also suggest the near-Earth object may be even older than scientists initially thought
  • The team now has to refine its landing target as well, after finding the surface is riddled with boulders 
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NASA is just three months into its close-up investigation of the near-Earth asteroid, Bennu. But already, the discoveries are piling in.

Scientists say the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft has observed particle plumes erupting from Bennu’s surface in an unexpected find.

The early observations also suggest the object, which is suspected to contain unaltered material from the birth of our solar system, may be even older than initially thought.

Features at the surface now suggest it could be 100 million to one billion years old, and likely originated in the main Asteroid Belt.

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Scientists say the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft has observed particle plumes erupting from Bennu’s surface in an unexpected find. OSIRIS-REx’s observations also appear to confirm the presence of hydrated minerals all over the ancient object. It’s thought that an asteroid like this could have delivered carbon-rich material to Earth long ago

A series of papers published this week report the early findings from the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu.

Much of the research centers on a series of unexpected surface features spotted over the first few months. None, however, appear more exciting than the discovery of particle plumes.

‘The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,’ said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-Rex principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tuscon.

‘And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started.’

The team also says they found more boulders at the surface than expected. This means the planned Touch-and-Go (TAG) portion of the mission will need to be adjusted.

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Much of the research centers on a series of unexpected surface features spotted over the first few months. None, however, appear more exciting than the discovery of particle plumes. The illustration above maps the projection of plumes erupting from Bennu 


While its features could help improve our understanding of the early solar system, they’ll also pose challenges to the mission as scientists hope to dig deeper

During this phase, OSIRIS-REx will dip down to collect a sample. While it previously planned for an 82-foot-wide sample site, researchers now say they’ll have to target a smaller area.

‘The first three months of OSIRIS-Rex’s up-investigation of Bennu have reminded us what discovery is all about – surprises, quick thinking, and flexibility,’ said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

‘We study asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the solar system. OSIRIS-Rex’s sample will help us answer some of the biggest questions about where we come from.’

OSIRIS-REx’s observations also appear to confirm the presence of hydrated minerals all over the ancient object.

It’s thought that an asteroid like this could have delivered carbon-rich material to Earth long ago.

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    NASA is just three months into its close-up investigation of the near-Earth asteroid, Bennu. But already, the discoveries are piling in. A series of papers published this week report the early findings from the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu


    The team also says they found more boulders at the surface than expected. This means the planned Touch-and-Go (TAG) portion of the mission will need to be adjusted. While it previously planned for an 82-foot-wide sample site, researchers now say they’ll have to target a smaller area

    HOW WILL NASA’S OSIRIS-REX MISSION TO TAKE SAMPLES FROM AN ASTEROID WORK?


    Osiris-Rex is the first US mission designed to return a piece of an asteroid to Earth.  

    Scientists say the ancient asteroid could hold clues to the origin of life. 

    It’s believed to have formed 4.5 billion years ago, a remnant of the solar system’s building blocks.

    The spacecraft launched on September 8, 2016 at 19:05 EST aboard an Atlas V rocket.

    After a careful survey of Bennu to characterise the asteroid and locate the most promising sample sites, Osiris-Rex will collect between 2 and 70 ounces (about 60 to 2,000 grams) of surface material with its robotic arm and return the sample to Earth via a detachable capsule in 2023.

    To capture samples on the surface, the craft will hover over a specific area and ‘will be sent down at a very slow and gently’ 4 inches (10 cm) per second. 

    The spacecraft will also carry a laser altimeter, a suite of cameras provided by the University of Arizona, spectrometers and lidar, which is similar to radar, using light instead of radio waves to measure distance. 

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      While its features could help improve our understanding of the early solar system, they’ll also pose challenges to the mission as scientists hope to dig deeper.

      ‘Bennu has issued us a challenge to deal with its rugged terrain, and we are confident that OSIRIS-Rex is up to the task,’ says Rich Burns, the project manager of OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

      NASA is hoping its spacecraft will return a sample to Earth in 2023. 

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