OSIRIS-REx – Asteroid Bennu Sample Site Flyovers

  • Released Thursday, December 12, 2019
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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.

In mid-2019, mission planners identified four candidate sample collection sites, and named them after birds that can be found in Egypt: Osprey, Kingfisher, Nightingale, and Sandpiper. In December 2019, mission planners announced that they had selected Nightingale as the primary sample collection site, and Osprey as the backup. Late in 2020, OSIRIS-REx will descend to Bennu's surface 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).

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NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Data provided by NASA/University of Arizona/CSA/York University/MDA.

Release date

This page was originally published on Thursday, December 12, 2019.
This page was last updated on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 at 12:13 AM EDT.


This visualization is related to the following missions:

Datasets used in this visualization


    ID: 1055
    Sensor: OLA

    The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) is a scanning LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). LIDAR is similar to RADAR, but it uses light instead of radio waves to measure distance. OLA emitted laser pulses at the surface of Bennu, which reflected back from the surface and returned a portion of the laser pulse to the LIDAR detector. By carefully measuring the time difference between the outgoing pulse and the incoming pulse, the distance from the spacecraft to the surface of Bennu was computed using the speed of light. This allowed OLA to provide high-resolution topographical information about Bennu during the mission.

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  • Imagery [OSIRIS-REx: OCAMS]

    ID: 1063
    Type: Observed DataSensor: OCAMS

    The OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) consists of three cameras: PolyCam, MapCam, and SamCam. These cameras captured a wealth of imagery during OSIRIS-REx’s time at asteroid Bennu. To help mission planners select a site on Bennu for sample collection, OCAMS provided global image mapping of the asteroid’s surface and more detailed images of potential sample sites. OCAMS also recorded the sampling event during the touch-and-go (TAG) maneuver.

    Credit: NASA/University of Arizona/CSA/York University/MDA

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