Space

Asteroid Bennu to be covered in mythical birds

Asteroid Bennu to be covered i...
Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx
Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx
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Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx
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Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx
The asteroid Bennu’s boulder-covered surface as seen by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on April 11, 2019
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The asteroid Bennu’s boulder-covered surface as seen by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on April 11, 2019

If you plan to visit asteroid (101955) Bennu, you'll need a new map. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) and NASA have decided that features of the asteroid currently being orbited by the space agency's unmanned OSIRIS-REx deep-space probe will be named after "birds and bird-like creatures in mythology."

One of the necessary, though a bit tedious, tasks of exploration is coming up with names for what's been found. To avoid duplication and embarrassing misnomers, the IAU has the responsibility for overseeing and approving the criteria for naming things found in the course of space exploration.

In the case of the OSIRIS-REx mission, which is currently mapping the 492-m (1,614-ft) asteroid to find a site to collect a 60-g (2.1-oz) sample for return to Earth, this not only means putting proper names to features, but also in classifying the terrain. This includes not only craters; dorsa, which are peaks or ridges; fossae, which are grooves or trenches; but a new type called "saxa" for rocks and boulders.

The asteroid Bennu’s boulder-covered surface as seen by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on April 11, 2019
The asteroid Bennu’s boulder-covered surface as seen by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on April 11, 2019

According to NASA, the avian names, which will begin being assigned in a few weeks, are in keeping with the mission name that is derived from Egyptian mythology.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission is the first US attempt to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth. Launched on September 8, 2016 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida, it arrived at Bennu on December 3, 2018 and went into orbit around the asteroid 28 days later. It has achieved the closest orbit yet of an asteroid, coming to within 1.6 km (1 mi) as it carries out a detailed survey of the surface.

The probe is slated to collect a sample of Bennu in the middle of 2020, which will be returned to Earth in September 2023.

Source: NASA

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