Four candidate sample collection sites have been identified on the asteroid Bennu. Two of those, a primary and a backup, will be selected in December for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. If all goes well, the probe will attempt to collect samples later next year that will be returned to Earth in 2023. As closeup photos of the candidate sites indicate, Bennu is an extremely rocky body, making sample collection more of a challenge than expected. Image: NASA/University of Arizona
After mapping the entire surface of the surprisingly rocky, rubble-strewn asteroid Bennu, researchers have identified four potential sample collection sites for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The team plans to spend another four months evaluating the candidates before selecting a primary and a backup based on particle grain sizes and nearby features that can serve as navigation landmarks during the spacecraft’s descent to the surface next year.
“We knew that Bennu would surprise us, so we came prepared for whatever we might find,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona. “As with any mission of exploration, dealing with the unknown requires flexibility, resources and ingenuity.”
OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu last December. Based on Earth-based observations, scientists expected to find large ...