Research ArticlePLANETARY SCIENCE

Asteroid (101955) Bennu’s weak boulders and thermally anomalous equator

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Science Advances  08 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 41, eabc3699
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc3699

Abstract

Thermal inertia and surface roughness are proxies for the physical characteristics of planetary surfaces. Global maps of these two properties distinguish the boulder population on near-Earth asteroid (NEA) (101955) Bennu into two types that differ in strength, and both have lower thermal inertia than expected for boulders and meteorites. Neither has strongly temperature-dependent thermal properties. The weaker boulder type probably would not survive atmospheric entry and thus may not be represented in the meteorite collection. The maps also show a high–thermal inertia band at Bennu’s equator, which might be explained by processes such as compaction or strength sorting during mass movement, but these explanations are not wholly consistent with other data. Our findings imply that other C-complex NEAs likely have boulders similar to those on Bennu rather than finer-particulate regoliths. A tentative correlation between albedo and thermal inertia of C-complex NEAs may be due to relative abundances of boulder types.

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