For the first time, NASA was able to get an up-close look as an asteroid in the past, leaving a trail in its debris.
OSIRIS-REX, the NASA spacecraft that was sent to observe the asteroid Bennu, found it sheds particles, rocks and other fragments of itself on a regular basis, according to a series of papers published on Wednesday. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. This is the first close-up of an asteroid ejection, and it gives scientists an unprecedented view of a space rock as it hurtles through the sky.
According to a NASA press release, scientists discovered a hail of rocks and debris almost by accident. Lead author and planetary scientist Carl Hergenother of the University of Arizona was focusing on images of the constellations that OSIRIS-REX takes to orient themselves when they saw hundreds of extra stars appear in the images. After a closer look, he realized that this is Benu’s path.
“I was looking at the star pattern in these images and thought, ‘Huh, I don’t remember that star cluster,” Hergenrother said in the release. “I only noticed it because there were 200 points of light where there should be about 10 stars. Furthermore, it was just a dense part of the sky. “
Thankfully, NASA is confident that OSIRIS-REx is still safe despite being close to the crushing asteroid. The reason scientists had never noticed the extent of the objection before is because most of the fragments are too small to be seen from Earth.
“To give you an idea, all of the 200 particles we observed during the first event after arrival would fit on a 4-inch x 4-inch tile,” Hergenother said. “The fact that we can also see them is a testament to the capabilities of our cameras.”
Read more: Where rocks meet alive: NASA’s OSIRIS-REX inspects an asteroid in action [NASA]
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