The asteroid Bennu is getting more and more exotic.
When NASA decided to send a probe to land on a space rock and bring back the specimens, it chose Bennu because the surface looked smooth – the perfect landing zone. But when the Osiris-Rex spacecraft made the 200 million mile journey to Bennu, the images it showed showed a landscape covered with rocks and rocky shoals.
NASA has finally chosen the flattest position it can find for landing, and the touch and move to shovel the material went smoothly last month. But then the next surprise happened: Bennu’s rock turned out to be incredibly soft, crumbling along with the spacecraft as it touched the surface.
The probe shoots out a blast of nitrogen gas to create swirling rocks and dust ̵1; that way it can catch some in its sample collection engine. Once again, however, scientists were caught off guard when the activity turned out to have brought so much matter that dust and rocks that underpinned the specimen collection tool to open up, allowing alien dust precious leaks into space.
They try to store the sample before losing too much, but that was not the ultimate shock. Recently, researchers from the University of Colorado concluded based on data that Osiris-Rex collected over the two years it orbits Bennu that the asteroid could be hollow.
Daniel Scheeres, professor at the university’s Department of Aerospace Engineering Science and lead the study, said in a press release: “It was as if there was a void at its center, in which you can match several soccer fields.
Furthermore, Bennu was able to rotate himself to pieces.
‘The whole thing flew out’
While Osiris-Rex orbited Bennu, the probe measured how much gravity the asteroid is impacting on it. At the same time, Bennu also threw marble-sized rocks off its surface. Those debris go into orbit around the asteroid, then some of them fall back to its surface. By tracking their movements, the mission managers were able to calculate the strength of Bennu’s gravity.
Since gravity comes from mass, these two datasets allow Scheeres’s team to calculate how matter is distributed through the asteroid interior.
Their findings, published in the Science Advances journal on October 8 (before Osiris-Rex’s brief landing), show that it is far from uniform. Bennu ‘spinning force appears to be pushing its matter outward to the surface. Some of the thinnest parts of the asteroid lie in its bulging equator.
Bennu completes one spin every four hours and it just gets faster and faster.
“You can imagine that maybe in a million years or less, the whole thing will fly out,” Scheeres said.
Bennu is able to hold the secret of the origin of life
According to Osiris-Rex’s principal investigator, Dante Lauretta, Bennu is one of the most potentially deadly asteroids in the solar system, as it has a “negligible capacity” to crash into Earth in the 22nd century. However, its fragility could be good news.
The Bennu study could help future scientists plan to redirect the asteroid if it threatens to impact the Earth. The study could also reveal new details about the asteroid life – primitive rock piles that congregate from remnants that do not form planets. Such objects may hold the secret of how our solar system formed and how life formed on Earth.
“We hope to find out what happened to the asteroid over time, which could give us insight into how all of these asteroids are,” Scheeres said. change over millions, hundreds of millions or even billions of years ”. “Our findings exceeded our expectations.”
Osiris-Rex has collected tons of data that scientists have yet to fully understand. The sample it collected is expected to return to Earth in 2023.
Assuming that the sample capsule will parachute safely into the Utah desert as planned over the next few years, NASA says it will preserve a portion of the alien rock for future research with the technologies that haven’t yet. develop. The agency will transfer the rest to laboratories around the world.
Lauretta said before Osiris-Rex landed on the asteroid: “This is all about understanding our roots, solving some of the most fundamental questions we ask ourselves as humans. “Where do we come from? And are we alone in the universe?”