Never thought we'd ever utter these words, but... can anyone recommend a spin doctor for NASA?

Boffins baffled by Bennu: We're due to visit asteroid but it's whirling faster and faster


Bennu, the asteroid targeted by NASA for its OSIRIS-Rex mission, is spinning at increasing rate and scientists aren’t quite sure why.

The asteroid, shaped somewhat like a tabletop spinner, is rotating faster and faster, taking one fewer second to rotate per hundred years. It may not sound like much, but given enough time, the whole asteroid might tear itself apart, according to a team of astronomers.

But don’t worry, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft stalking and surveying the asteroid, with the aim to extract and analyze a sample from its surface, won’t be in any danger any time soon. It’ll take millions of years before anything dramatic happens.

Bennu, measuring 510 metres from top to bottom, completes a full rotation every 4.3 hours while whipping around the Sun at an average speed of 63,000 miles per hour. It's, on average, 105 million miles from the Sun, close to Earth's 93-million-mile orbit.

The researchers dug through records of observations of Bennu, studying its motion at three different times: in 1999, 2005, and 2012. They found a discrepancy when they looked at the asteroid’s rotation speed.

“You couldn’t make all three of them fit quite right,” said Mike Nolan, a senior research scientist at the University of Arizona and first author of the paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, this week. “That was when we came up with this idea that it had to be accelerating.”

bennu_asteroid

OSIRIS-REx space probe catches a whiff of water on asteroid Bennu

READ MORE

It’s not unknown to find chunks of space rocks speeding up over time, this behavior has been spotted before but only in a very few asteroids and the researchers aren’t quite sure what could have caused Bennu to start spinning faster. They reckon it’s either because its shape has changed, or its down to the Yarkovsky‐O'Keefe‐Radzievskii‐Paddack effect (YORP).

YORP describes how sunlight can exert a small kick to an asteroid making it spin faster or slower. The photons from the Sun’s rays can be absorbed or reflected back out to space and since the photons carry some momentum, the change in direction of incoming and outgoing light pushes the asteroid.

The team hopes that observations gathered by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will help them work out why Bennu is speeding up over time.

“As it speeds up, things ought to change, and so we’re going to be looking for those things and detecting this speed up gives us some clues as to the kinds of things we should be looking for,” said Nolan.

"We should be looking for evidence that something was different in the fairly recent past and it’s conceivable things may be changing as we go." ®


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022