OSIRIS-REx, the little spacecraft with the big acronym (standing for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer) has been on station for a year and a half at asteroid Bennu, monitoring the unexpected activity that distinguishes the object. Particle ejection from the surface is the subject of a revised special issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets collecting 10 papers on the matter.
Specifically, the spacecraft has found that particles of rock mostly of pebble-size are being ejected repeatedly — one or two per day — from the asteroid’s surface, some of them escaping into space, some moving into a temporary orbit, with the rest falling back onto the surface. Just days after entering orbit on December 31 of 2018, OSIRIS-REx began to spot the activity, which the introduction to the special issue refers to as “ongoing mass shedding” involving millimeter- to centimeter-scale particles. What we have on our hands here is an asteroid that is active.
Dante Lauretta (University of Arizona) is OSIRIS-REx principal investigator:
“We thought that Bennu’s boulder-covered surface was the wild card discovery at the asteroid, but these particle events definitely surprised us. We’ve spent the last year investigating Bennu’s active surface, and ...