The past 4.5 billion years have been an incredibly lonely period for the asteroid 101955 Bennu. A gigantic impact in the early days of the solar system smashed an ancient cosmic rock to pieces, ejecting dust and debris into the void. Gravity forced the rubble pile to clot together and, ever since, it’s been wandering alone as Bennu, the space rock shaped like a spinning top. For billions of years, it’s drifted around the sun between Earth and Mars, untouched and unaccompanied.
Until NASA’s Osiris-rex spacecraft greeted it in orbit on Dec. 3, 2018.
After a 27-month journey from Earth, NASA’s asteroid-chasing spacecraft sidled up to Bennu for a closer look. Bennu finally had company. The spacecraft is part of an ambitious plan to return pieces of Bennu to Earth, the first time a NASA mission has attempted such a feat.
Since arriving at the asteroid, Osiris-rex has been busy taking measurements and sizing Bennu up. It performed close flybys to get a high-resolution look at the surface and caught the asteroid unexpectedly spewing debris into space in late 2019. Its five instruments have been gathering data, mapping Bennu’s surface and slowly piecing together the asteroid’s story. Where did it come from? What is it made of? Will it collide with the Earth? (That last one isn’t likely, but Bennu is expected to pass close-by next century.)
On Thursday, a suite of new studies, published in the journals Science and Science Advances, shed light on these questions, revealing more about Bennu’s boulder-riddled surface. In addition, Osiris-rex has allowed for a detailed examination of “Nightingale” crater, the target of Osiris-rex’s daring heist set for Oct. 20…Read more>>