This colorful structure is a three-dimensional map of the earth-intersecting asteroid Bennu.
This 500 metre large asteroid is currently being visited by the space probe OSIRIS-REx, which has mapped the asteroid and will soon take a sample of its surface.It is no coincidence that the asteroid Bennu is currently receiving visits from a space probe. Because the asteroid could come dangerously close to Earth sometime between 2100 and 2200, maybe even hit it. It is therefore important to find out as much as possible about its composition, its behaviour and above all its orbit as early as possible.
This data is currently being collected by the NASA mission OSIRIS-REx, launched in September 2016. As soon as the probe approached the almost diamond-shaped chunk, its measuring instruments registered that Bennu consists of very loosely bound material.
Moreover, its rock seems to contain water in bound form. Recently, the probe also detected surprising eruptions of dust and gas particles from the asteroid's surface, the cause of which is still unclear.
The image shown here is a three-dimensional topographical map of the asteroid that the spacecraft's laser altimeter produced in February 2019. It shows that mountainous elevations are accumulating, especially along the equator of Bennu - recognizable by the red color. At the poles, however, Bennu's surface is sunken in several places.
OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to take its first sample from the asteroid's surface in early 2020. To do this, the probe will have to approach the asteroid and extend its 3.35-metre-long robot arm.
Using a nozzle at the end of the arm, it then shoots a burst of gas into the asteroid's subsurface, thereby stirring up material. This is picked up by a suction head at the end of the arm and brought back to earth by the space probe.
"OSIRIS-REx is a real pioneer," says the mission's scientific director, Dante Lauretta from the University of Arizona. "Anyone who wants to visit an asteroid in the future, be it for exploration or asteroid mining, will benefit from the pioneering work we are doing here."