NASA says this asteroid looks like a Chuck E ball crater for spacecraft

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft faced troubling circumstances when it attempted to retrieve a sample from the asteroid Bennu in 2020. After analyzing the data collected by its instruments, the team was amazed to confirm that the spacecraft would have sunk into Bennu had it not been for its launch. Their payments are immediately rolled back.

Security Identification of Resources Spectral Interpretation of Origins The Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft first arrived at asteroid Bennu in 2018. The team found a boulder-strewn surface, rather than the smooth sandy beach they had predicted based on observations from Earth and space-based telescopes. He also found that the asteroid was “spitting particles of rock into space,” according to NASA.

“Our predictions about the asteroid’s surface were completely wrong,” commented Dante Loretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator.

It seems that Bennu was not presented with surprising results, as the researchers determined that the surface was not only different from what they expected in appearance, but in composition as well. The new findings show that Bennu’s outer shape is so loose and so loosely bound together that if someone were to step on Bennu they would feel no resistance. It would be “as if you were walking into a hole of plastic balls that are popular play areas for children,” NASA says.

“If Bennu is completely full, that implies almost solid rock, but we found a lot of void in the surface,” OSIRIS-REx team member Kevin Walsh stated. The latest discoveries about Bennu’s surface were published in Science and Science Advances on July 7, 2022. That includes the time the spacecraft took a sample and sent close-up images of the asteroid’s surface back to Earth. “What we saw was a huge wall of debris radiating from the sample site. We were like, ‘Holy cow!'” ‘ said Loretta.

Scientists were amazed at the amount of shear that scattered around, in relation to how well the spacecraft was touching the surface. What was even more surprising to the team was the size of the hole left by the spacecraft. The crater was 26 feet (8 meters) wide, according to NASA.

“Every time we’ve tested the sample-picking procedure in the lab, we’ve barely managed to do a puncture,” Loretta stated. At the time, Loretta added, the research team decided to return the spacecraft to the asteroid to take more pictures of Bennu’s surface “to see how much chaos we’ve created.”

Once the new images were obtained, the mission scientists analyzed the size of the debris in the before and after images of the sample site, called the Nightingale. The team also looked at acceleration data collected during the spacecraft’s descent. This data revealed that when OSIRIS-REx touched the asteroid, it encountered the same resistance that “a person feels while pressing the piston in a French coffee pot”.

Image Credit: NASA

NASA noted that the team ran hundreds of computer simulations to find out Bennu’s density and coherence based on spacecraft images and acceleration data. During the simulations, engineers altered the surface cohesion properties in each simulation until the team found the property that most closely matches the real-life data.

One interesting piece of information that has been deduced is the possibility that asteroids are barely bound together by gravity or electrostatic force, such as benothey can essentially disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere and pose a completely different type of hazard than solid asteroids.

“I think we’re still very early in understanding what these objects are, because they behave in very non-intuitive ways,” said OSIRIS-REx scientist Patrick Michel.

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