OSIRIS-REx Encounters Bennu and Collects a Sample from a Surprising Asteroid

Wednesday, December 02, 2020 - 3:30pm PST
Ellen Howell
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The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is exploring Bennu, a carbonaceous asteroid whose regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system. The OSIRIS-REx instruments are collecting measurements to constrain Bennu’s physical and chemical properties. Bennu has confirmed many of our ground-based measurements, but also has surprised us with its unexpectedly rugged, rocky surface. The in situ measurements of the thermal properties agree with previous remote sensing, but the interpretation was contrary to the spacecraft findings. We selected the sample site and backup site that seemed most likely to be successful, and performed the sampling on October 20, 2020. Although the procedure went smoothly, the nature of the surface was again a surprise. We had planned to measure the mass of the collected sample, but found that material was leaving the sample container unexpectedly, so it was sealed as quickly as possible. The spacecraft will leave Bennu in March –May 2021 and will bring the sample to the Earth in September 2023. This pristine sample from a well characterized asteroid will tell us much about the early solar system and the formation of the Earth.

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