Asteroid Bennu has little pieces of Vesta on it

The asteroid belt is a chaotic place.  Things smash into each other, get thrown into completely different orbital planes, and are occasionally visited by small electronic spacecraft launched by humans.  All three things seem to have happened to the asteroid Bennu, which is currently being orbited by OSIRIS-REx, a mission launched by NASA in 2016.

The most recently released results from the mission show that Bennu might have small pieces of Vesta on it.  Given that Vesta is one of the biggest asteroid belt objects and Bennu is a near Earth asteroid millions of kilometers away from the asteroid belt, this hints at a pretty exciting past history for the asteroid currently being visited by NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

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Rocks on Bennu are Cracking Because of the Constant Day/Night Cycling

Examples of disaggregation (top) and linear fractures (bottom) in boulders on asteroid Bennu from images taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REX spacecraft. In the bottom row, fracture orientations are (d) west-northwest to east-southeast and (e, f) north to south. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Asteroid Bennu is blanketed by rocks and huge boulders. And now that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is taking a close look at those rocks, researchers are able to see something surprising for an airless body: the rocks have tiny cracks and fissures.  

The cause?

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OSIRIS-REx Will Collect a Sample from Bennu on October 20th

This artist’s concept shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. The sampling procedure will take place on October 20th. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

The date is finally set for OSIRIS-REx’s sampling maneuver. The spacecraft has been at asteroid Bennu since the end of December 2018. During that time, it’s found a few surprises, and mapped the surface in great detail.

Now, we can circle October 20th on our calendars, as the date OSIRIS-Rex will collect its sample.

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OSIRIS-REx Descended Down to Just 75 Meters Above the Surface of Bennu in a Recent Test

Image obtained on Mar. 7th by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of about 5 km (3 mi) Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is getting ready for its big moment. OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is at asteroid Bennu, preparing to collect a sample of ancient rock. And collecting that sample means taking step after meticulous step.

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These are the Boulders OSIRIS-REx is Going to Use to Navigate Down to the Surface of Bennu

During the sample collection event, Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) will guide NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to asteroid Bennu’s surface. The spacecraft takes real-time images of the asteroid’s surface features as it descends, and then compares these images with an onboard image catalog. The spacecraft then uses these geographical markers to orient itself and accurately target the touchdown site. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Meet OSIRIS-REx’s “Guide Boulders.”

When the NASA spacecraft first arrived at asteroid Bennu over a year ago, the surface of the asteroid was much different than expected. Instead of a surface with large, smooth areas, nearly the entire surface is covered in boulders. That meant that NASA had to do a re-think of the sampling procedure.

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Asteroid Bennu is Getting Some Official Names for its Surface Features

This flat projection mosaic of asteroid Bennu shows the locations of the first 12 surface features to receive official names from the International Astronomical Union. The accepted names were proposed by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team members, who have been mapping the asteroid in detail over the last year. Bennu’s surface features are named after birds and bird-like creatures in mythology, and the places associated with them. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Late last summer, NASA and the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (a.k.a WGPSN) approved the naming convention for features on Bennu, the asteroid currently being orbited and studied by the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft. The naming theme chosen was “birds and bird-like creatures in mythology.”

The first twelve features thusly named have now been announced. But more importantly, some of these features will be instrumental in helping to guide OSIRIS-REx to the surface of the asteroid later this year.

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OSIRIS-REx did its Closest Flyover Yet, just 250 Meters Above its Sample Site

Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return spacecraft collecting regolith samples at asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is getting closer, physically and temporally, to its primary goal. The spacecraft arrived at Bennu at the end of 2018, and for just over a year it’s been studying the asteroid, searching for a suitable sampling site. To do that, it’s getting closer and closer.

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OSIRIS-REx Flew 620 Meters Above its Landing Site. Confirms that it’s a Boulder-Strewn Nightmare, Just Like the Rest of Bennu

Image obtained on Mar. 7th by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of about 5 km (3 mi) Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reached its target, asteroid Bennu (101955 Bennu), on December 3rd, 2018. Since then, the spacecraft has been examining the asteroid’s surface, looking for a suitable landing spot to collect a sample. The problem is, Bennu has a much rockier and challenging surface than initially thought.

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Why Are Particles Getting Ejected Off of Asteroid Bennu?

OSIRIS-REx discovered particles being ejected from asteroid Bennu shortly after arriving at the asteroid. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at asteroid Bennu in December 2018, and just one week later, it discovered something unusual about Bennu: the asteroid was ejecting particles into space.

The spacecraft’s navigation camera first spotted the particles, but scientists initially thought they were just stars in the background. After closer scrutiny, the OSIRIS-REx team realized they were particles of rock, and were concerned that they might pose a hazard.

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