A few of the particles thrown off Bennu falls again to the asteroid's floor. This is the first time scientists have had close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid's surface, the agency said. In reality, they could be quite interactive with the space around them.
Some the particles continue out into interplanetary space, some go into orbit around Bennu, and some rain down on the surface.
NASA has concluded the particle clouds don't pose a danger to the spacecraft, giving OSIRIS-REx the all-clear to move in and investigate.
"We are seeing Bennu regularly eject material into outer space", OSIRIS-Rex mission Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta said.
"Bennu is already surprising us", Lauretta said.
Understanding those physics matters for advance OSIRIS-REx's scientific mission, too, said Jay McMahon, an assistant professor in aerospace engineering and a co-author of the new study. The asteroid is full of valuable materials that may even contain clues about how life began. "And you could gain enough energy so that you'd roll off the equator and maybe up into orbit and then out into space".
The original, low-boulder estimate was derived both from Earth-based observations of Bennu's thermal inertia - or its ability to conduct and store heat - and from radar measurements of its surface roughness. While in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, these objects would be constantly bombarded by impactors, but once they leave the main belt and become NEAs, they are subject to further evolutionary processes.
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Originally, the team was looking for a 82-foot radius area with few boulders or hazards, to allow OSIRIS-REx to collect a sample from, but they now know that type of area doesn't exist on Bennu. Instead, it's rough and crowded with boulders.
Scientists had thought the 535-yard-wide, diamond-shaped asteroid had flat areas where OSIRIS-REx would be able to gather up samples.
"OSIRIS-REx data confirm previous ground-based observations pointing to aqueously altered, hydrated minerals on the surface of the asteroid", Hamilton added.
Hayabusa2 landed on the asteroid Ryugu last month under similar rocky conditions.
"We study asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the Solar System", she continued. Samples from the asteroid, which are expected back on earth by 2023, will help us answer some of the biggest questions about where we come from, according to an official press release.
OSIRIS-REx has been lurking in Bennu's neighborhood since December 2018. OSIRIS-REX's digicam has noticed particles touring at more massive speeds coming into orbit across the asteroid, whereas some materials strike quick sufficient to escape Bennu completely, Lauretta stated.
Bennu is the target of NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, which began orbiting the asteroid on December 31. It launched in September 2016 and will spend two years up close and personal with Bennu.
OSIRIS-REx spacecraft [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsA team led by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder is studying data from NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which approached the big asteroid Bennu months ago. If everything goes as planned, NASA will receive a physical sample collected from Bennu.