Monday, 22 April, 2019

Asteroid's rugged surface complicates OSIRIS-REx mission

Asteroid Bennu OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, via Wikimedia Commons
Andrew Wong | 23 March, 2019, 07:17

This view of asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on January 19 was created by combining two images taken by the NavCam 1 imager onboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft: a short exposure image (1.4 ms), which shows the asteroid clearly, and a long exposure image (5 sec), which shows the particles clearly. But before that happens, the OSIRIS-REx mission team is trying to learn as much as it can about the asteroid using the spacecraft's instruments. It will extend a robot arm to pick up the sample, which will be returned to Earth in 2023.

Lauretta stated the plume discovery at Bennu was one of many most massive surprises of his scientific profession.

"Bennu has issued us a challenge to deal with its rugged terrain, and we are confident that OSIRIS-REx is up to the task", said Rich Burns, the project manager of OSIRIS-REx at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The revelation is just one of many surprises that scientists have learned about Bennu, ever since OSISIR-REx reached the asteroid late a year ago.

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.

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Additional particle plumes, or "ejection events" were detected over the next two months.

Although numerous particles were ejected clear of Bennu, the team tracked some particles that orbited Bennu as satellites before returning to the asteroid's surface. The team continues to analyze the particle plumes and their possible causes.

A mission to sample an asteroid that could tell scientists more about the origin of the solar system has gotten more complicated. "OSIRIS-REx's sample will help us answer some of the biggest questions about where we come from".

Bennu has a shape comparable to a spinning top and it's a "rubble pile" asteroid, a grouping of rocks held together by gravity rather than a single object. Additionally, OSIRIS-REx already discovered that water is lurking inside Bennu in hydrated clays, but the spacecraft also found that a mineral called magnetite is present. Observations from orbit showed that Bennu's entire surface is rough and covered with boulders. This means the planned Touch-and-Go (TAG) portion of the mission will need to be adjusted. The original mission design was based on a sample site that is hazard-free, with an 82-foot (25-meter) radius.

Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the $1 billion NASA-funded Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety, Regolith Explorer mission on the College of Arizona, mentioned the invention of rock and pebble particle streams makes Bennu a "lively asteroid", an uncommon class of small photovoltaic system objects with a inhabitants of exclusively a few dozen, of which none have been studied up-shut. Thanks to all that OSIRIS-REx has learned, the mission team now knows they will have to work extra hard to characterize and map the surface of Bennu before they start sampling. Sandy regions are ideal for grabbing a small collection of particles, especially with the sampler attached to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The stones and pebbles seen flying off Bennu vary from a couple of centimeters throughout to tens of centimeters in dimension - roughly the scale of an M&M as much as a laptop computer pc - with speeds of as much as some miles per hour, following Lauretta.

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