Mar 21, 2019

NASA finds near-Earth asteroid ejecting particles from surface

The asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on Jan. 19, as seen from cameras aboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Photo: NASA

The near-Earth asteroid Bennu is an active asteroid that periodically ejects rocky material into space, according to early results from NASA's OSIRIS-REx Mission.

Why it matters: This is surprising, as the vast majority of known asteroids are inactive. In addition, NASA scientists hoping to land a spacecraft on Bennu to take samples back to Earth in 2023 have found the asteroid contains larger rocks than earlier thought, which could complicate the sampling mission.

What they found: The OSIRIS-REx mission began orbiting the asteroid on Dec. 31, seeking to learn more about its composition and movement. It's thought that some asteroids may contain material dating back to the beginning of our solar system, NASA says.

  • The NASA research team first noticed the plumes of material emanating from Bennu on Jan. 6, and they've detected at least 11 more of them during the past 2 months. Some of the material has wound up orbiting Bennu as satellites before settling back down on its surface.

“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “We don’t know the mechanism that is causing this right now," he said.

  • From distant observations, Bennu appeared to have a mostly flat surface with some large boulders.
  • However, close-up views showed Bennu's surface is rather rough, with at least 200 boulders of at least 33 feet wide.
  • This means the team has to re-evaluate its plans for how to safely land on the asteroid and collect samples from its surface.

One cool thing: Scientists have identified magnetite on Bennu's surface, which is indicative of interactions between rock and liquid water, most likely on the parent body that the asteroid spun off from.

Meanwhile, some of the first discoveries of Japan's Hayabusa2 mission to the asteroid Ryugu were revealed in a series of studies published in Science on Tuesday.

  • The studies measure the characteristics of the asteroid, such as its density, spin, shape and more.
  • They found Ryugu has a low density and is a "rubble pile" of rocks that congealed in a surreal, spinning-top shape that may one day spin itself apart.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 1,595,350 — Total deaths: 95,455 — Total recoveries: 353,975Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 461,437 — Total deaths: 16,478 — Total recoveries: 25,410Map.
  3. Public health latest: U.S. has expelled thousands of migrants under a CDC public health orderDr. Anthony Fauci said social distancing could reduce the U.S. death toll to 60,000.
  4. Business latest: The Fed will lend up to $2.3 trillion for businesses, state and city governments — After another 6.6 million jobless claims, here's how to understand the scale of American job decimation.
  5. States latest: FEMA has asked governors to decide if they want testing sites to be under state or federal control.
  6. World latest: Lockdowns have led to a decline in murders in some of the world's most violent countries — Boris Johnson is moved out of the ICU but remains in hospital with coronavirus.
  7. In Congress: Senate in stalemate over additional funding for small business relief program.
  8. 1 SNL thing: "Saturday Night Live" will return to the air this weekend with a remotely produced episode.
  9. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredPets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Federal court temporarily blocks coronavirus order against some abortions

Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Thursday that clinics in Texas can immediately offer medication abortions — a pregnancy termination method administered by pill — and can also provide the procedure to patients nearing the state's time limits for abortions.

Driving the news: The decision comes after federal appeals court ruled 2-1 on Tuesday in favor of an executive order by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

The view from the other side of the coronavirus peak

We'll soon be crowding into cafes it's 1954 in Rapallo, Italy. Photo: LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Europeans and Americans are desperate to move beyond the worst of the crisis and return to something approximating normality, but the World Health Organization is cautioning that moving too fast will undermine the sacrifices made so far.

Where things stand: Nearly every country on Earth is still seeing their caseload increase, and a recent uptick in Singapore shows that apparent victory over the virus can be fleeting. But several countries are providing reason for optimism.

Go deeperArrow2 hours ago - World