Bennu, the asteroid currently being explored by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, will have its various features named after mythological birds and ‘bird-like creatures,’ according to NASA. The decision was made by the International Astronomical Union Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature and NASA. A variety of features on the asteroid will be named, including craters, rocks, boulders, trenches, grooves, ridges, and peaks.
Asteroid 101955 Bennu is a rocky carbonaceous asteroid that was discovered in late 1999. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which was launched in September 2016, will spend months studying the asteroid before ultimately descending to collect a 60g sample from the space rock’s surface. At this point in time, the Bennu mission team has been tasked with finding potential sample sites.
Assuming everything goes according to plan, NASA anticipates collecting the sample next summer, after which point it will take a little more than three years to bring it back to Earth. Before all of that, however, officials have to agree on how the features observed on Bennu will be named.
In an announcement on Thursday, NASA revealed the asteroid’s rocky surface — the notable landmarks, at least — will be named after birds and bird-like creatures from ancient mythology. These creatures were often ‘symbolic of rebirth, creation and origins in various ancient myths,’ the space agency points out.
The naming process will start this summer and cover different categories of asteroid features: dorsa, craters, fossae, and saxa. The space agency hasn’t revealed any specific names that will be used, but we’ll no doubt receive announcements about them over coming months.