Global view of asteroid Bennu with insets of the four candidate sample collection sites. This animation is available in Hyperwall resolution (5760x3240).
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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. Now, mission planners have identified four candidate sample collection sites, and named them after birds that can be found in Egypt: Osprey, Kingfisher, Nightingale, and Sandpiper. In mid-2020, OSIRIS-REx will descend to one of these sites, and collect a sample of pristine material from the origins of the solar system that will be studied on Earth for decades to come.
The 3D animations on this page were created using laser altimetry data and imagery of Bennu taken by OSIRIS-REx. The animations are available in Hyperwall resolution (5760x3240).
Closeup view of Bennu sample site Kingfisher. Kingfisher is located just north of Bennu’s equator, and is centered on a small crater surrounded by boulders. This animation is available in Hyperwall resolution (5760x3240).
Closeup view of Bennu sample site Nightingale. Nightingale is located near Bennu’s north pole. It sits inside a small, 66-foot-wide crater that is nested within a larger crater. This animation is available in Hyperwall resolution (5760x3240).