NASA’s OSIRIS-REx science team published detailed observations that unveil asteroid Bennu in action. The spacecraft has offered planetary scientists the chance to examine the asteroid shedding material at close range for the first time.
OSIRIS-REx’s data represents the first in-depth look at the structure of Bennu’s particle ejection events. The first observation of the asteroid’s particles was realized in January 2019. Here is what you need to know.
OSIRIS-REx’s Extraordinary Discovery
Like ocean-traveling explorers in centuries past, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx relies on stars to set its position in space and keep its course during its years-long mission. A specially developed navigation camera onboard captures repeat pictures of background stars. Course corrections can be realized as necessary by cross-referencing the constellations of the spacecraft spots with programmed star charts.
One of the lead authors of the recently published collection, Carl Hergenrother, was looking over the photos that the OSIRIS-REx captured when something caught his attention.
The photos showed the asteroid Bennu silhouetted against a dark sky dotted with too many stars. Hergenrother stated: “[…] there were 200 dots of light where there should be about 10 stars.”
An application of image-processing methods and a closer inspection solved the mystery. The spotted star clusters was actually a cloud of tiny particles that have been discharged from Bennu’s surface. More observations unveiled the telltale bursts typical of objects moving across the frame, putting them apart from the background stars that seem motionless due to their massive lengths.
Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, talked about the importance of the spacecraft and its finding, saying: “[…] it’s provided us with a remarkable opportunity to expand our knowledge of how active asteroids behave.”
OSIRIS-REx continues its work, as Bennu continues, too, to show its true colors. The recent findings could help future planetary missions to understand how these small bodies evolve and behave.
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