Looping animation of asteroid Bennu rotating. This 3D model of Bennu was created using 20cm resolution laser altimetry data and imagery taken by OSIRIS-REx.
When NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at asteroid Bennu in December 2018, its close-up images confirmed what mission planners had predicted nearly two decades before: Bennu is made of loose material weakly clumped together by gravity, and shaped like a spinning top. This major validation, however, was accompanied by a major surprise. Scientists had expected Bennu’s surface to consist of fine-grained material like a sandy beach, but instead OSIRIS-REx was greeted by a rugged world littered with boulders – the size of cars, the size of houses, the size of football fields.
The main science goal of OSIRIS-REx is to briefly touch down on Bennu and collect a sample for return to Earth, but the asteroid’s unexpected roughness could pose a hazard to the spacecraft. Areas for safely touching down are fewer and smaller than anticipated, and OSIRIS-REx will have to navigate to them with unprecedented accuracy.
The 3D animations on this page were created using laser altimetry data and imagery of Bennu taken by OSIRIS-REx.
Short clip of the southern hemisphere of Bennu, highlighting a large boulder nicknamed "BenBen." This 3D model of Bennu was created using 20cm resolution laser altimetry data and imagery taken by OSIRIS-REx.