NASA reveals asteroid Bennu has a surface like a ‘plastic ball pit’

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NASA has revealed that 101955 Bennu, an asteroid discovered back in 1999, has a surface that can be compared to a play area for kids, complete with loosely packed particles that make up the entire exterior of the asteroid.

“It turns out that the particles making up Bennu’s exterior are so loosely packed and lightly bound to each other that if a person were to step onto Bennu they would feel very little resistance, as if stepping into a pit of plastic balls that are popular play areas for kids,” the American space agency said in a new blog post announcing the findings.

The findings come after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected a sample (comprising dust and rock) from the asteroid back in October 2020 during a mission. Scientists have now discovered from the sample that the Asteroid’s exterior is not as tightly packed as it seemed.

“If Bennu was completely packed, that would imply nearly solid rock, but we found a lot of void space in the surface,” OSIRIS-REx science team member Kevin Walsh said.

Back in December 2018, when the spacecraft first arrived at Bennu, NASA was shocked to find a surface “littered with boulders” instead of what they thought would be a sandy, beach-like surface. The asteroid was also found to be spitting particles of rock into space.

However, the force keeping particles together on the surface turned out to be much more shocking. A video by NASA explains what the phenomenon felt like with the help of neat animations. You can check it out below.

As you can see in the video, when the spacecraft touched down on the surface of the asteroid, a wall of debris was sent flying back in all direction, even though the spacecraft tapped on the surface very gently.

“I think we’re still at the beginning of understanding what these bodies are, because they behave in very counterintuitive ways,” Patrick Michel, an OSIRIS-REx scientist and director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at Côte d’Azur Observatory in Nice, France said.

NASA added in its post that should asteroids like Bennu ever come into contact with Earth, the planet’s atmosphere could easily break apart the asteroid particles, which are barely clinging together by gravity or electrostatic force. The space agency suggested that such asteroids could face a different kind of threat than solid asteroids in the event of a collision..

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