A NASA spacecraft, that will return with a sample of a near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 2023, has discovered plumes erupting from the cosmic body’s surface — among a numerous other findings including evidence of water-bearing minerals.
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 December 31 last year.
Bennu 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,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in the US.
“And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started,” Lauretta said.
Shortly after the discovery of the particle plumes on January 6, the mission science team increased the frequency of observations, and subsequently detected additional particle plumes during the following two months.