A near-Earth asteroid named Bennu turned out to be full of surprises. According to the latest research by NASA scientists, its surface looks like a pool of plastic balls. The new discovery came after the space agency successfully collected samples by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from an asteroid in October 2020.
“We thought that the composition of Bennu is like a rock, but inside it is almost empty, like a pool of plastic balls,” explained Kevin Walsh, a member of the OSIRIS-REx scientific group from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Bennu is an asteroid made of a pile of debris in the shape of a spinning top, consisting of stones connected by gravity. Its width is about 500 meters. During the historic sample collection, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft plunged 0.5 meters into the asteroid’s surface. But the surface of the asteroid turned out to be composed of loosely packed particles, not very securely connected to each other. If the spacecraft had not started the engine in time for a quick departure, it could have completely plunged into the asteroid.
“By the time we fired our thrusters to leave the surface we were still plunging into the asteroid. Perhaps OSIRIS-REx has plunged even deeper into the asteroid, which is both fascinating and scary at the same time”, said study co-author Patrick Michel, an OSIRIS-REx scientist and director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research of the Lazur Observatory in Nice, France.
Fortunately, the spacecraft and its valuable sample are returning to Earth. NASA is due to receive a sample from the asteroid Bennu in September 2023.
Earlier we reported on how the Sun can cause premature “aging” of asteroids.
According to CNET
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