This mosaic image of the asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from 24 kilometres (15 miles) away. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona
A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid’s surface. Bennu also revealed itself to be more rugged than expected, challenging the mission team to alter its flight and sample collection plans, due to the rough terrain.
Bennu is the target of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, which began orbiting the asteroid on 31 December 2018. Bennu, which is only slightly wider than the height of the Empire State Building, may contain unaltered material from the very beginning of our Solar System.
“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” says Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started.”
Shortly after the discovery of the particle plumes on 6 January 2019, ...