NASA scientists have made what they describe as a “wonderful” discovery about Bennet, an asteroid that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected a rock and dust sample in 2020.
The space agency said this week that the particles that make up Bennu’s outer space were bound more than expected. If you walked on it, there would be no objection, “as if you were stepping into a plastic ball hole which is a popular toy for children.”
After analyzing data collected when the spacecraft hit an asteroid two years ago, NASA revealed the findings this week.
As the video below shows, the spacecraft descends into the sky before causing an explosion to collect objects. Nine seconds after the collision, the spacecraft fired its thrusters to push it into the rock below, but NASA said that if it had not done so, “it would have sunk in Benu.”
Scientists first realized that Benu might have a slightly tightened area when he observed how the soft touch of the spacecraft caused a pile of debris to fly. “The strangest thing was that the spacecraft left a huge hole 26 meters wide,” NASA said.
The notable findings were published on July 7 in Science and Science Advances.
“These results add to the subtlety that has kept scientists on the edge of their seats throughout the OSIRIS-REx campaign, as Bennu has always seemed uncertain,” NASA said.
Indeed, as the space agency notes, Bennu gave his first surprise when the OSIRIS-REx landed on an asteroid in 2018. Instead of finding a place like the “smooth, sandy sea,” suggested by telescope observations from Earth and space, the mission team found it “full of rocks.”
To determine the surface area of the asteroid, scientists analyzed spacecraft data and images taken during the touch process. They then used hundreds of computer simulations until all the data matched.
NASA has said the data could help it detect more accurate missiles about distant asteroids, enabling it to predict better if anything goes our way.
For example, scientists believe that Bennu, which they say is “almost linked to gravity or electrostatic forces,” may split the Earth’s atmosphere and thus produce a different kind of danger than solid asteroids.
“I think we’re just beginning to understand what these corpses are, because they behave in very different ways,” said OSIRIS-REx scientist Patrick Michel.
OSIRIS-REx is on its way back to Earth and is expected to deliver a sample of the Bennu asteroid by September 2023.
Scientists believe Bennu formed our solar system’s first 10 million years of existence. The sample can therefore reveal more about how it happened and possibly open up some mysteries about the origin of life.