Near-Earth asteroid Bennu is an active space rock

NASA at Asteroid Bennu

NASA's plan to scoop up dirt from asteroid hits a snag

It is the smallest body ever orbited by a spacecraft, and it could contain materials from the beginning of the solar system.

"The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career", Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist and OSIRIS-REx lead investigator at the University of Arizona. Such a rugged terrain introduces more risk into the sample collection, as it could throw the spacecraft off or larger particles could clog the sampler. "Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started", Lauretta said in a statement.

Initially discovered in early January, additional particle plumes were spotted over the next two months.

Some of the particles shot off Bennu's surface go into orbit around the asteroid, and others fall back down.

USA space agency NASA says it will seek advice from Japan's Hayabusa2 project team on how to land a probe on the rocky surface of an asteroid. The team continues to analyze the particle plumes and their possible causes.

"We study asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the Solar System", she continued.

NASA is planning to land a probe called the OSIRIS-REx on the asteroid Bennu, which was more than 120 million kilometers from Earth as of December. Asteroids like Bennu are thought to be million- to billion-year-old relics preserved by the vacuum of space. It demonstrates the number and distribution of boulders across Bennu's surface. Based on how Bennu's temperature changes and how light reflected off the rock, the OSIRIS-REx team interpreted that there were a lot of smooth areas of fine grains on the surface of the asteroid - like large patches of sand - and very few boulders.

The mission was meant to set out toward a level zone with a sweep of 25 meters, yet the pictures channeled back since December demonstrated that there is no region that huge which is free of rocks.

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However, because of the unexpectedly rugged terrain, the team has not been able to identify a site of that size on Bennu. But a spacecraft now circling the asteroid revealed the surface is covered with boulders and there aren't any big, smooth spots for sampling. Richard Burns, project manager said, "Now we're going to try to hit the center of the bullseye".

The OSIRIS-REx mission and the asteroid Bennu got to meet face to face on December 3.

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.

The team is still scouring Bennu for a good place to snag a sample.

"OSIRIS-REx data confirm previous ground-based observations pointing to aqueously altered, hydrated minerals on the surface of the asteroid", Hamilton added.

The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed. It turns out that Bennu's spin is speeding up at a rate of roughly one second every 100 years. But the team is particularly eager to sample a site high in magnetite, as it could paint a picture of how much water and organic material was present in Bennu's past.

The new findings were reported by the team that works on NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission.

It appears to have broken off from a parent body, according to observations from a Japanese probe that landed on the space rock. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations.

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