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Asteroid Bennu Might Be Hollow and Doomed to Crumble – ExtremeTech

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has successfully scooped up a bucket-full of the asteroid Bennu, and it’ll begin its journey back to Earth soon. Scientists will learn a great deal about the space rock once they get their hands on that sample, but we’re already learning some surprising things based on data collected by OSIRIS-REx. A new analysis from the University of Colorado Boulder’s OSIRIS-REx team suggests the Bennu is much less stable than expected. In fact, it could completely go to pieces in the coming eons. 

OSIRIS-REx arrived in orbit of Bennu in late 2018 and immediately set to work finding a suitable landing zone. NASA scientists noted that the surface of Bennu was much more challenging than expected, rife with boulders and fields of uneven rocky debris strewn around the surface. Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission encountered similar conditions on Ryugu recently, but both the Japanese spacecraft and OSIRIS-REx were able to find suitable sampling locations. 

Last month, OSIRIS-REx successfully tapped the surface of Bennu to grab a bit of regolith. While we wait for that sample to get back to Earth, the team has been puzzling over the behavior of Bennu. Ever since OSIRIS-REx arrived in orbit, scientists have noted the way particles are being heaved off the surface as Bennu spins (see below). This phenomenon, along with the probe’s gravity field measurements, have helped the team make some interesting observations about this space rock. 

According to the new study, Bennu’s density varies considerably — the least dense zones are near the bulging equator and internally around the center of mass. Previously, scientists expected Bennu’s core to be at least as dense as the outer layers. Instead, there may be a void in the middle of Bennu the size of several football fields. This empty center is likely a consequence of Bennu’s rotation, which is increasing in speed as it careens through space near Earth. As it spins faster, the loose clump of material that makes up Bennu could continue flying apart until it no longer has enough gravity to remain intact. 

This work is helping inform how scientists will test the sample from Bennu when it returns to Earth. For example, the team will analyze the cohesion between grains, which could help us understand the physical properties of asteroids on a larger scale. What keeps some of them stuck together for billions of years and causes others to fly apart? Scientists will be able to start this important work when the OSIRIS-REx sample container returns to Earth in 2023.

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China's Chang'e-5 probe completes second orbital correction – ecns

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China’s lunar probe Chang’e-5 successfully carried out its second orbital correction Wednesday night, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The probe conducted the orbital correction at 10:06 p.m. (Beijing Time), when its two 150N engines were operational for about six seconds.

Prior to the orbital correction, the lunar probe had traveled for roughly 41 hours in orbit, and was about 270,000 km away from Earth. All of the probe’s systems were in good condition.

The CNSA said that the tracking of the probe by ground monitoring and communication centers and stations is going smoothly.

China launched the lunar probe Tuesday to collect and return samples from the moon. It is the country’s first attempt to retrieve samples from an extraterrestrial body.


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This rocks! Western University student spots never-before-seen asteroid – Belleville Intelligencer

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A Western University astronomy student from Chatham, who’s been stargazing since he was a kid, has discovered an asteroid through remote access to a telescope in Spain.

Graduate student Cole Gregg, 22, was using a telescope based at an observatory known as Astrocamp to troll the night sky when he spotted the small, fast-moving, flashing object.

His find — an asteroid estimated to be about 50 to 100 metres long — came after months of seeing nothing notable during his studies. It was, to put it mildly, “unexpected,” Gregg said Wednesday.

“It was quite shocking. You are not really ready for it,” he said. “It takes you by surprise and it was very exciting.”

Using the telescope located on a Spanish mountaintop, Gregg said he observed the asteroid as it sped close to Earth, moving through near-space across Europe.

Gregg’s astronomy professor, Paul Wiegert, called it “a rare treat to be the first person to spot one of these visitors to our planet’s neighbourhood.”

Added Wiegert: “Astronomers around the globe are continuously monitoring near-Earth space for asteroids so this is certainly a feather in Cole’s cap.”


Western astronomy student Cole Gregg monitors the night skies. Gregg discovered the asteroid ALA2xH a week ago.

Gregg spotted the asteroid, given the temporary designation ALA2xH, on Nov. 18. Data collected about the asteroid was sent to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., to determine whether the observation was unique or not.

From there, it goes on their near-Earth object confirmation page.

Gregg used a website called Itelescope, which allows the public to access telescopes via the internet.

“A lot of people use them for the pretty astrophotography pictures, but they are quite capable of science as well,” Gregg said. “My project is proving that these small telescopes are quite capable of science.”

Despite their efforts, Gregg said they have not spotted the asteroid again “due to weather and unavailability of the telescopes.”

Gregg said he has been fascinated with space since he was camping as a boy and relished looking up at stars in the dark skies. “It sparked my interest.”

After completing his PhD in astronomy, he hopes to continue his research and teach.

“I’m interested in asteroids and comets and how they move, how they exist in the solar system and where they come from,” he said. “And how we can learn from our own solar system to understand . . . other solar systems in the galaxy.”

HRivers@postmedia.com


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This rocks! Western University student spots never-before-seen asteroid – Kingston This Week

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A Western University astronomy student from Chatham, who’s been stargazing since he was a kid, has discovered an asteroid through remote access to a telescope in Spain.

Graduate student Cole Gregg, 22, was using a telescope based at an observatory known as Astrocamp to troll the night sky when he spotted the small, fast-moving, flashing object.

His find — an asteroid estimated to be about 50 to 100 metres long — came after months of seeing nothing notable during his studies. It was, to put it mildly, “unexpected,” Gregg said Wednesday.

“It was quite shocking. You are not really ready for it,” he said. “It takes you by surprise and it was very exciting.”

Using the telescope located on a Spanish mountaintop, Gregg said he observed the asteroid as it sped close to Earth, moving through near-space across Europe.

Gregg’s astronomy professor, Paul Wiegert, called it “a rare treat to be the first person to spot one of these visitors to our planet’s neighbourhood.”

Added Wiegert: “Astronomers around the globe are continuously monitoring near-Earth space for asteroids so this is certainly a feather in Cole’s cap.”


Western astronomy student Cole Gregg monitors the night skies. Gregg discovered the asteroid ALA2xH a week ago.

Gregg spotted the asteroid, given the temporary designation ALA2xH, on Nov. 18. Data collected about the asteroid was sent to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., to determine whether the observation was unique or not.

From there, it goes on their near-Earth object confirmation page.

Gregg used a website called Itelescope, which allows the public to access telescopes via the internet.

“A lot of people use them for the pretty astrophotography pictures, but they are quite capable of science as well,” Gregg said. “My project is proving that these small telescopes are quite capable of science.”

Despite their efforts, Gregg said they have not spotted the asteroid again “due to weather and unavailability of the telescopes.”

Gregg said he has been fascinated with space since he was camping as a boy and relished looking up at stars in the dark skies. “It sparked my interest.”

After completing his PhD in astronomy, he hopes to continue his research and teach.

“I’m interested in asteroids and comets and how they move, how they exist in the solar system and where they come from,” he said. “And how we can learn from our own solar system to understand . . . other solar systems in the galaxy.”

HRivers@postmedia.com


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