Near-zero cohesion and loose packing of Bennu’s near subsurface revealed by spacecraft contact

Walsh, Kevin J.; Ballouz, Ronald-Louis; Jawin, Erica R.; Avdellidou, Chrysa; Barnouin, Olivier S.; Bennett, Carina A.; Bierhaus, Edward B.; Bos, Brent J.; Cambioni, Saverio; Connolly, Harold C.; Delbo, Marco; DellaGiustina, Daniella N.; DeMartini, Joseph; Emery, Joshua P.; Golish, Dathon R.; Haas, Patrick C.; Hergenrother, Carl W.; Ma, Huikang; Michel, Patrick; Nolan, Michael C.; Olds, Ryan; Rozitis, Benjamin; Richardson, Derek C.; Rizk, Bashar; Ryan, Andrew J.; Sánchez, Paul; Scheeres, Daniel J.; Schwartz, Stephen R.; Selznick, Sanford H.; Zhang, Yun and Lauretta, Dante S. (2022). Near-zero cohesion and loose packing of Bennu’s near subsurface revealed by spacecraft contact. Science Advances, 8(27)



When the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft pressed its sample collection mechanism into the surface of Bennu, it provided a direct test of the poorly understood near-subsurface physical properties of rubble-pile asteroids, which consist of rock fragments at rest in microgravity. Here, we find that the forces measured by the spacecraft are best modeled as a granular bed with near-zero cohesion that is half as dense as the bulk asteroid. The low gravity of a small rubble-pile asteroid such as Bennu effectively weakens its near subsurface by not compressing the upper layers, thereby minimizing the influence of interparticle cohesion on surface geology. The underdensity and weak near subsurface should be global properties of Bennu and not localized to the contact point.

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