Research ArticleASTRONOMY

Heterogeneous mass distribution of the rubble-pile asteroid (101955) Bennu

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Science Advances  08 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 41, eabc3350
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc3350


The gravity field of a small body provides insight into its internal mass distribution. We used two approaches to measure the gravity field of the rubble-pile asteroid (101955) Bennu: (i) tracking and modeling the spacecraft in orbit about the asteroid and (ii) tracking and modeling pebble-sized particles naturally ejected from Bennu’s surface into sustained orbits. These approaches yield statistically consistent results up to degree and order 3, with the particle-based field being statistically significant up to degree and order 9. Comparisons with a constant-density shape model show that Bennu has a heterogeneous mass distribution. These deviations can be modeled with lower densities at Bennu’s equatorial bulge and center. The lower-density equator is consistent with recent migration and redistribution of material. The lower-density center is consistent with a past period of rapid rotation, either from a previous Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack cycle or arising during Bennu’s accretion following the disruption of its parent body.

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