Surprise! 'Active Asteroid' Bennu Is a Rare Particle-Ejecting Space Rock

Space.com | 1/19/2019 | Mike Wall
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Click For Photo: https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/TjcP4nmi9ZTERxckEvNgd9-1200-80.jpg

The near-Earth asteroid Bennu is a lot weirder and more interesting than scientists had thought.

The 1,650-foot-wide (500 meters) space rock ejected particles of dust and gravel into space multiple times over the past few months, newly announced observations from NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reveal. So, Bennu is one of just a dozen or so known "active asteroids" — and the only one to be observed up close.

Discovery - Surprise - Stages - OSIRIS-REx - Mission

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 today (March 19).

The $800 million OSIRIS-REx mission launched in September 2016 and arrived in orbit around Bennu on Dec. 31 of last year. If all goes according to plan, in mid-2020, the probe will dip down and grab a sample of Bennu material, which will come down to Earth in a return capsule in September 2023.

Analysis - Dirt - Gravel - Scientists - Solar

Analysis of this pristine cosmic dirt and gravel will help scientists better understand the solar system's early days. It could also help reveal the role that dark, carbon-rich asteroids like Bennu may have played in delivering water and the chemical building blocks of life to our planet, mission team members have said.

OSIRIS-REx's observations will additionally shed light on how potentially dangerous asteroids move through space and which of the space rocks miners may want to target down the road, among other things. Indeed, there are numerous subsidiary goals, as indicated by the mission's full name: "Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer."

Team - Look - Asteroid - Surprise - OSIRIS-REx

But the team didn't expect to get an up-close look at an active asteroid. So, it came as a big surprise when OSIRIS-REx photos showed particles streaming from Bennu's rugged surface on Jan. 6, just...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Space.com
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