12 features on Asteroid Bennu, the subject of NASA’s first mission to bring an asteroid sample back to Earth, have been given official names. Bennu’s own name was inspired by an ancient Egyptian deity, depicted as a bird, that was associated with the Sun, creation and rebirth. In keeping with this theme, the features have been given names related to mythological birds and bird-like creatures.
Asteroid Bennu’s most prominent boulder, a rock chunk jutting out 21.7 metres from the asteroid’s southern hemisphere — so large that it was initially detected from Earth — has been officially designated Benben Saxum, after the primordial hill that first arose from the dark waters in an ancient Egyptian creation myth.
Benben Saxum and 11 other features are the first on the roughly 500 metre-wide asteroid to receive official Bennu feature names approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the internationally recognised authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features. The accepted names were proposed by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team members, who have been mapping the asteroid in detail over the last year. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently orbiting the asteroid and is scheduled to collect a sample from Bennu’s surface this summer.
“Since arriving at the asteroid, the OSIRIS-REx team has become incredibly familiar with all of the geological features on Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “These features are providing us with insight into Bennu’s history, and their new names symbolise the essence of the mission — studying the past to both discover our origins and understand our future.”
The approved Bennu surface feature names are listed below. Bennu’s diverse terrains — including regiones (broad geographic regions), craters, dorsa (ridges), fossae (grooves or trenches) and saxa (rocks and boulders) — will be named after birds and bird-like creatures in mythology, and the places associated with them.
Tlanuwa Regio is named for the giant birds who scattered the Earth with pieces of a serpent that turned into standing pillars of rocks in Cherokee mythology. Tlanuwa Regio is an area covered by large boulders in Bennu’s southern hemisphere.
Benben Saxum is named for an ancient Egyptian mound that arose from the primordial waters Nu. In Egyptian mythology, the god Atum settled upon Benben to create the world after his flight over the waters in the form of the Bennu bird. Benben Saxum is the tallest boulder on Bennu.
Roc Saxum is named for the Roc, an enormous bird of prey in Arabian mythology of the Middle East. Roc Saxum is the largest boulder feature on Bennu.
Simurgh Saxum is named for the benevolent, mythological bird in Persian mythology that was said to possess all knowledge. Simurgh Saxum defines the prime meridian on Bennu and is the basis for the asteroid’s coordinate system.
Huginn Saxum and Muninn Saxum are adjacent boulders named for the two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who accompany the god Odin in Norse mythology.
Ocypete Saxum is named for one of the Greek harpies, the half-maiden and half-bird personification of storm winds that would snatch and carry things away from Earth. Ocypete Saxum is located near the origin of the particle ejection event of 19 January 2019 on Bennu.
Strix Saxum is named for the Strix bird of ill-omen from Roman mythology. Strix Saxum is a large boulder flanking the OSIRIS-REx mission’s backup sample collection site.
Amihan Saxum is named for the Tagalog (Philippines) deity, who is depicted as a bird and was the first creature to inhabit the Universe in Tagalog mythology. This large, flat boulder appears to be partly buried and is located in Tlanuwa Regio, which has an unusually high concentration of large boulders.
Pouakai Saxum is named for the monstrous bird who kills and eats humans in Māori (Polynesia) mythology. Pouakai Saxum is a 10.6 metre-wide boulder located in Bennu’s southern hemisphere, slightly north of Benben Saxum.
Aetos Saxum is named for the childhood playmate of the supreme god Zeus, who was turned into an eagle by Hera in Greek mythology. Aetos Saxum is a conspicuously flat boulder, with a general wing-like shape located near Bennu’s equator.
Gargoyle Saxum is named for the French dragon-like monster with wings, a bird-like neck, and the ability to breathe fire. Gargoyle Saxum is a large prominent boulder near the mission’s backup sample site, and is one of the darkest objects on the surface.
The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 13 500 professional astronomers from more than 100 countries worldwide. Its mission is to promote and safeguard astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex and https://www.asteroidmission.org
Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 173 38 72 621
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona, USA
Tel: +1 520-626-1138