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Rock of Ages

The Big Picture:

NASA has found a place for the Osiris-Rex spacecraft to land on the carbon-rich near Earth asteroid named Bennu. Osiris-Rex will land for only a split second, long enough to deploy an arm to snatch up a sample before heading back home next year. Bennu is thought to be one of the oldest asteroids in the solar system, formed nearly four billion years ago.

Mission Deets:

Osiris-Rex was launched in 2016 and traveled 1.2 billion miles, arriving at Bennu about a year ago. It spent a year mapping the diamond-shaped asteroid in search of a place to land. Turned out Bennu is covered in large boulders and rocks—some several stories high—making landing on it extremely difficult.

The research team, led by University of Arizona's planetary scientist Dr. Dante Lauretta, identified a smooth landing surface near Bennu's north pole. It is a crater-within-a-crater that the team is calling "Nightingale."

Heads Up

There's a slight chance Bennu will collide with Earth in the late 22nd Century (sometime between 2169 and 2199), with catastrophic results. But it won't wipe out all life on Earth.

Space For Women?

Dr. Lori Glaze, as the director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, oversees this mission.


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