Scientists with NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team have gotten the nod from International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature to name surface features on the asteroid (101955) Bennu after “birds and bird-like creatures in mythology.”

OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to bring an asteroid sample to Earth. University of Arizona-led OSIRIS-REx mission has selected four sites to collect samples for the asteroid Bennu, which it has been orbiting for months.

Scientists will study the four sites in greater detail before selecting the final two sites — a primary and a backup — in December.

“The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been mapping Bennu’s surface since its arrival on Dec. 3, 2018, looking for a site from which to take a sample. Bennu is the smallest body in the solar system to be orbited and surveyed by a spacecraft at close range,” according to OSIRIS-REx members Erin Morton and Nancy Neal Jones.

The named features on Bennu will include several terrain classification types that the International Astronomical Union has approved for surface features of asteroid (162173) Ryugu, currently being explored by the Japanese Space Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft).

These include craters, dorsa (peaks or ridges), fossae (grooves or trenches) and saxa (rocks and boulders).

“The last of these types – saxum – is a new feature classification that the International Astronomical Union introduced earlier this year for small, rocky asteroids like Ryugu and Bennu.

“These surface features on Bennu will be named after mythological birds and bird-like creatures, complementing the mission’s existing naming theme, which is rooted in Egyptian mythology,” Morton and Jones said.

OSIRIS-REx is an acronym for the mission’s major concepts and goals, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer.

The name is also inspired by the Egyptian myth of the god Osiris, associated with the afterlife, the underworld and rebirth.

“He granted all life, including sprouting vegetation and the fertile flooding of the Nile River. Similarly, the OSIRIS-REx mission seeks to understand the origin and process of life on Earth by studying Bennu’s carbon-rich regolith.”

Bennu was named in 2013 by a 9-year-old boy from North Carolina, United States who won the Name that Asteroid! Competition, collaboration between the mission, the Planetary Society, and the LINEAR asteroid survey that discovered Bennu.

The process of naming of Bennu’s surface and features will start this summer after the OSIRIS-REx team begins a detailed reconnaissance on candidate sample sites.

Sample collection is scheduled for summer 2020, and touchdown in September 2023.

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