NASA scientists are shocked by plumes seen erupting from surface of asteroid Bennu

Some of these particles circled Bennu like a satellite before returning to the asteroid’s surface.

Asteroids are easy to imagine as inert rocks flying through space. In reality, they could be quite interactive with the space around them.

NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft has stumbled upon an unexpected discovery: plumes of particles erupting from the surface of an asteroid named Bennu. The asteroid was a lot more rugged than they expected, pushing the flight and sample-collection plans further down the timeline due to bumpy terrain.

The agency hasn't revealed any specifics about the discovery but has suggested that some asteroids are far more dynamic and poorly understood than previously believed.

NASA scientists are shocked by plumes seen erupting from surface of asteroid Bennu

This view of asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on 19 January was created by combining two images taken from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Image: NASA

Bennu is the target of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, which began orbiting the asteroid on 31 December 2018. Bennu may contain compounds or traces that have survived since the birth of our solar system. Studying asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the solar system. Samples from the asteroid, which are expected back on earth by 2023, will help us answer some of the biggest questions about where we come from, according to an official press release.

"The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career," Dante Lauretta, Principal Investigator in the OSIRIS-REx mission, said in a press release. "And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started."

An artist's concept of the OSIRIS-REx's sample collection instrument, TAGSAM. Image courtesy: NASA

An artist's concept of the OSIRIS-REx's sample collection instrument, TAGSAM. Image courtesy: NASA

The mission team spotted the particle plumes first in images taken from the spacecraft 1.61 kilometres away on 6 January. The science team then ramped up their observation of the plumes and found several more in the two months since.

Though most of the particles seem to be shooting out away from Bennu, the team also found particles that circled Bennu like a satellite before returning to the asteroid’s surface.

After a quick safety check, NASA concluded that the particles weren't a risk to the spacecraft as it continues to study the particle plumes and what could be causing them.

Find our entire collection of stories, in-depth analysis, live updates, videos & more on Chandrayaan 2 Moon Mission on our dedicated #Chandrayaan2TheMoon domain.

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