Scientists have discovered that the asteroid Bennu has a surface like “entering into a pit of plastic balls”.
Nasa examined the sample of the asteroid gathered when OSIRIS-REx visited the space rock in October 2020, finding that Bennu’s exterior is made up of particles loosely packed and calmly sure to one another.
“If Bennu was completely packed, that will imply nearly solid rock, but we found lots of void space within the surface,” said Kevin Walsh, a member of the OSIRIS-REx science team from Southwest Research Institute.
“Our expectations concerning the asteroid’s surface were completely fallacious” added Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx.
Scientists were shocked by the abundance of pebbles on Bennu’s surface, and that the spacecraft left a 8 meter-wide crater. “Each time we tested the sample pickup procedure within the lab, we barely made a divot,” Ms Lauretta said. Nasa’s mission team went back to take more photographs of the asteroid’s surface “to see how big of a multitude we made,” Lauretta said.
Analysing the debris visible in before and after images of the “Nightingale” sample site, in addition to acceleration data collected throughout the spacecraft’s touch down, Nasa found that OSIRIS-REx touched the asteroid it experienced the identical amount of resistance an individual would feel while squeezing the plunger on a French press coffee carafe.
“By the point we fired our thrusters to depart the surface we were still plunging into the asteroid,” said Ron Ballouz, an OSIRIS-REx scientist based on the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
Lots of of computer simulations were ran to deduce Bennu’s density and cohesion based on spacecraft images and acceleration information, before they found the one which closely-matched real-life data. The brand new details about Bennu’s surface could be used to assist scientists higher interpret distant observations of other asteroids.
This information could possibly be utilized in designing future asteroid missions and developing methods to guard Earth from asteroid collisions.
“I believe we’re still firstly of understanding what these bodies are, because they behave in very counterintuitive ways,” said Patrick Michel, an OSIRIS-REx scientist and director of research on the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.