See the mark NASA's asteroid-booping spacecraft left on Bennu

Osiris-Rex snagged some bits of asteroid Bennu in 2020, and now it's swooped in to check out the mess it left behind.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

This GIF shows the before and after at the Nightingale sample collection site. The boulder circled in red seen at the center of the "before" image was moved 40 feet (12 meters).The red X indicates the sample site.

NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA's Osiris-Rex mission has been studying asteroid Bennu and last year successfully grabbed a sample to bring back to Earth. That sample operation left a mark on the asteroid, and now we have a great view of how the spacecraft rearranged the furniture on Bennu.

Earlier this month, the spacecraft flew to within just 2.3 miles (3.7 kilometers) of the asteroid to capture images of the Touch-and-Go (TAG) zone. On Thursday, NASA released the shots showing "obvious signs of surface disturbance."

The view shows how Osiris-Rex left a depression and moved rocks around. The spacecraft touched the asteroid and fired pressurized gas at the surface during sampling. It then used thrusters to move away. All of these actions had an impact on the surface.

"Where thrusters fired against the surface, substantial mass movement is apparent," said NASA. "Multiple sub-meter boulders were mobilized by the plumes into a campfire ring-like shape -- similar to rings of boulders seen around small craters pocking the surface."

One boulder, marked in a before and after GIF, measured in at about 4 feet (1.2 meters) across and appeared to have been thrown 40 feet (12 meters) from its original resting place. "The rock probably weighs around a ton, with a mass somewhere between a cow and a car," said Osiris-Rex project scientist Jason Dworkin.

NASA pointed out some details of the changes in a video released Thursday.

The close approach to gather images marks Osiris-Rex's final flyover of Bennu. It'll hang out near the asteroid till May 10, when it'll begin its journey back to Earth to deliver the sampled material. If all goes well, some bits of Bennu will parachute down to Earth in September 2023.

NASA hopes all this effort will help scientists learn more about the formation of the solar system and how Earth became habitable. 

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