The main science goal of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is to briefly touch down on near-Earth asteroid Bennu and collect a sample of fine-grained material, but the asteroid’s unexpected roughness could pose a hazard to the spacecraft. After a year of scoping out Bennu’s boulder-scattered surface, the OSIRIS-REx team has officially selected a sample collection site. The team concluded that a site designated “Nightingale” – located in a crater high in Bennu’s northern hemisphere – is the best spot for the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to snag its sample.
Nightingale’s regolith – or rocky surface material – is dark, and images show that the crater is relatively smooth. Because it is located so far north, temperatures in the region are lower than elsewhere on the asteroid and the surface material is well-preserved. The crater also is thought to be relatively young, and the regolith is freshly exposed. This means that the site would likely allow for a pristine sample of the asteroid, giving the team insight into Bennu’s history. OSIRIS-REx will collect its sample of Bennu in mid-2020, and return it to Earth in late 2023.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/CSA/York University/MDA
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