NASA’s OSIRIS-REX asteroid probe spent many months through space to meet its goal, a big space rock called Bennu. The mission of the spacecraft will be carried out in the next few years, but arriving at Bennu means that we finally get a very close view of the mountain itself. And the boy is dirty.
One of the interesting things about asteroids is that they tend to not look as you can imagine. We have learned from science fiction to believe that asteroids are a big piece of uneven rock but the reality is very different. As you can clearly see from the pictures, Bennu is a big dusty bullet filled with rubbish.
Knowing the surface of the asteroid is crucial for the entire OSIRIS REx mission, because spacecraft must choose a place to eventually land. After about one year of measurement, the machine will touch the asteroid and shake a sample of its surface before flying back to the ground where researchers can study the material in greater detail.
The pictures of Benny’s surface reflect those sent back from Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe who traveled to another asteroid, called Ryugu, and touched the surface. The team that handled the probe was promptly pointing out how incredibly brave and rough asteroid’s surface was, and Bennu seems to be about the same.
Asteroids like these have the potential to tell a lot about the history of our solar system as well as the material from which planets the earth originally formed. Researchers are always keen to study new planets and distant worlds, but there may be so much smaller items that Bennu can tell even more about where we started.