American spacecraft Osiris-Rex touched down on near-earth asteroid Bennu, 70 million miles from Earth, last December. Mission scientists mentioned Tuesday that OSIRIS-REx had detected the particle plumes on a minimum of 11 events, starting January 6, and consultants are usually not positive what's inflicting materials to eject off of Bennu's floor.
Recent observations also show that the asteroid's surface is more rugged than previously expected, and the OSRIS-REx mission team will likely have to change the spacecraft's flight and sample collection plans due to the rough terrain.
The discovery "is probably the biggest surprise of the early stages of the OSIRIS-REx mission and, I would say, one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career", OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta, of the University of Arizona, said during a news conference March 19, reports Geek Wire.
U.S. space agency NASA has announced an unanticipated discovery - "particle plumes erupting" from Bennu's surface. "Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started", Lauretta said.
It was determined that the particles ejecting off the asteroid didn't pose any danger to the spacecraft, so the team continued to observe the plumes and their possible causes. While numerous particles were thrown clear of Bennu, some were tracked orbiting the asteroid before falling back to the surface. But the abundance of large boulders meant the teams will need much better aim to safely touch down and collect the material they hope to bring home to Earth.
On Tuesday, they announced that Bennu's surface is actually covered in boulders, making an eventual touchdown for a spacecraft that much more hard to navigate.
Another surprise Bennu had been withholding was that it emits particles which fall back to the surface like rain.
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While details of the discovery remain hazy, it could suggest some asteroids are far more complex and poorly understood than ever expected.
"We study asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the Solar System", she continued.
"Thanks to the parallel missions of Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx, we can finally address the question of how these two asteroids came to be", Sugita said. The original mission design was based on a sample site that is hazard-free, with an 82-foot (25-meter) radius.
United States space agency NASA says it will seek advice from Japan's Hayabusa2 project team on how to land a probe on the rocky surface of an asteroid.
The particles range from centimeters to 10s of centimeters, and some of them are slow-moving while others are quickly making their way through interstellar space. "Bennu has issued us a challenge to deal with its rugged terrain, and we are confident that OSIRIS-REx is up to the task".
"Now the team is identifying candidate sites that are much smaller in diameter where the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft can take samples".
OSIRIS-REx will now have to be flown to a smaller area where boulders are less concentrated. As a result, Bennu's rotation period is decreasing by about one second every 100 years. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The OSIRIS-REx mission team is now developing a new approach, called Bullseye TAG, to target smaller sample sites.