Sharing the Connection: Arecibo’s Planetary Radar & NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission to Bennu

Planetary Radar

Arecibo Radar images of the asteroid (101955) Bennu and the physical model of the asteroid developed from those images.

On September 2nd, Dr. Michael Nolan presented a Solar System Ambassadors and Museum Alliance Professional Development Training Webinar titled “Twenty Years of Bennu: From Arecibo to Orbit (and Home Again).”

The webinar highlighted the importance of the Arecibo Observatory for characterizing the near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu, the target of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. The spacecraft, currently in orbit around Bennu, is slated to pick up a sample of the asteroid next month and send the piece back to Earth by September 2023.

Dr. Nolan is the Science Team Chief of the OSIRIS-REx mission and a Research Professor at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. He worked at the Arecibo Observatory for twenty years, from 1995 - 2015, and served as the Head of Planetary Radar program and the Observatory Director.

“Whenever I give a talk about Bennu, I like to give my own personal perspective, which begins at Arecibo,” Dr. Nolan said.

The Arecibo Observatory hosts the most powerful planetary radar system in the world. Observations of Bennu were obtained in 1999, 2005, and 2011. From those, Dr. Nolan created the highly-accurate physical model of the asteroid that was necessary for planning the OSIRIS-REx mission.

“One of my specific goals arriving at Arecibo was to use radar to help plan space missions, and here we are!” - Dr. Michael Nolan, Science Team Chief of the OSIRIS-REx mission

Series of images of the asteroid (101955) Bennu taken from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

In his webinar for the Solar System Ambassadors, Dr. Nolan shared updates from the OSIRIS-REx mission, including the incredible images that the spacecraft has sent back to Earth.

Solar System Ambassadors are space enthusiasts who learn about recent discoveries and space exploration milestones and then share that knowledge within their communities through a public outreach effort developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Over 90 ambassadors attended Dr. Nolan’s presentation.

Dr. Nolan’s main message he conveyed during the webinar: “We’re doing science; we are trying to understand how things work and how the Solar System formed.”

“But we are also doing exploration,” he emphasized, “and we are not truly surprised when some of our ideas are wrong.” “We would be disappointed if they weren’t.”

About Arecibo
The Arecibo Planetary Radar Program is funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program. The Arecibo Observatory is operated by the University of Central Florida (UCF) in partnership with Universidad Ana G. Mendez - Universidad Metropolitana and Yang Enterprises Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Article written by Dr. Tracy Becker - AO Collaborator / SwRI Research Scientist Contact:

Arecibo Media Contact
Ricardo Correa
Universidad Ana G. Mendez (UAGM)
787-878-2612 ext. 615

Head of Planetary Radar team
Dr. Anne Virkki
Arecibo Observatory

Keywords: arecibo, observatory, planetary,