NASA hones in on asteroid sample site

The probe will make a split-second touchdown and take samples from asteroid Bennu for its 2020 mission.


NSFW    SAN FRANSICO, CALIFORNIA — NASA has selected a target site for the spacecraft OSIRIS[i]-REx[j] to gather samples on the asteroid Bennu, according to the mission's principal investigator.

In a statement made at the American Geophysical Union annual conference last week, principal investigator Dante Lauretta said the spacecraft has been orbiting Bennu since December 2018.

Lauretta says that Nightingale lies far to the asteroid's north, with cooler temperatures than other possible sites.

This means Nightingale's surface would preserve more materials dated back to Bennu's formation for the probe to collect.

Citing Lauretta, Science News reports that Nightingale is a 20-meter wide crater contained in a larger crater and that parking the six-meter wide spacecraft could be a 'tight fit'."

The New York Times reports that Bennu is one of the oldest rocks in the solar system and that the asteroid is rich in carbon and organic substances like hydrated minerals."

The spacecraft will touch down on Bennu for only a split-second next year and deploy its robotic arm to gather a sample.
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