Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Scientists with NASA's OSIRIS-REx team want to name surface features on the asteroid Bennu after "birds and bird-like creatures in mythology." This week, the International Astronomical Union's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature approved the request.
Over the last several months, the spacecraft has been mapping the surface of 101955 Bennu, a 1,614-foot-wide space rock in the collection of near-Earth asteroids known as the Apollo group. Now, scientists are ready to begin naming the most prominent of the surface features.
The features include several types of asteroid surface types found on the asteroid Ryugu and defined by scientists with the Japanese Space Agency's Hayabusa2 mission, including: craters; dorsa, which are peaks or ridges; fossae, grooves or trenches; and saxa, rocks and boulders.
The asteroid is named after the mythological Bennu-bird, an ancient Egyptian deity linked with the sun and rebirth. The surface features will now also be named after mythological birds.
While mission's name OSIRIS works as an acronym -- its letters stand for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer -- it is also a reference to the Egyptian god Osiris, the god of fertility, rebirth and the afterlife.
Scientists will begin naming the asteroid's surface features later this summer.
The naming theme of mythology and rebirth alludes to the asteroid's scientific significant. NASA scientists chose to target Bennu because of its unique supply of unadulterated carbonaceous material, one of the building blocks of life. Researchers estimate asteroid collisions provided early Earth with biochemicals necessary for life.
Asteroids like Bennu have been circling the sun since the earliest days of the solar system. Scientists estimate that their geochemical secrets can offer insights into the origins and early evolution of the solar system.
OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to continue mapping the asteroid's surface for several more months, but in 2020, the probe will attempt an extremely close approach without landing, using its robotic arm to scoop up a material sample from the asteroid's surface.
The spacecraft will begin its return journey to Earth in 2021 and is scheduled to touch down on September 24, 2023.