Overview of the search for signs of space weathering on the low-albedo asteroid (101955) Bennu

1B.E.Clark et al. (>10)
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2023.115563]
Department of Physics and Astronomy, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, USA
Copyright Elsevier

This paper summarizes the evidence for the optical effects of space weathering, as well as the properties of the surface that control optical changes, on asteroid (101955) Bennu. First, we set the stage by briefly reviewing what was known about space weathering of low-albedo materials from telescopic surveys, laboratory simulations, and sample return analysis. We then look at the evidence for the nature of space weathering on Bennu from recent spacecraft imaging and spectroscopy observations, including the visible to near-infrared and thermal infrared wavelengths, followed by other measurements such as normal albedo measurements from LIDAR scans. We synthesize these different lines of evidence in an effort to describe a general model of space weathering processes and resulting color effects on dark C-complex asteroids, with hypotheses that can be tested by analyzing samples returned by the mission.

A working hypothesis that synthesizes findings thus far is that the optical effects of maturation in the space environment depend on the level of hydration of the silicate/phyllosilicate substrate. Subsequent variations in color depend on surface processes and exposure age. On strongly hydrated Bennu, in color imaging data, very young craters are darker and redder than their surroundings (more positive spectral slope in the wavelength range 0.4–0.7µm) as a result of their smaller particle sizes and/or fresh exposures of organics by impacts. Solar wind, dehydration, or migration of fines may cause intermediate-age surfaces to appear bluer than the very young craters. Exposed surfaces evolve toward Bennu’s moderately blue global average spectral slope. However, in spectroscopic and LIDAR data, the equator, the oldest surface on Bennu, is darker and redder (wavelength range 0.55–2.0
µm) than average and has shallower absorption bands, possibly due to dehydration and/or nanophase and/or microphase opaque production.

Bennu is a rubble pile with an active surface, making age relationships, which are critical for determining space weathering signals, difficult to locate and quantify. Hence, the full story ultimately awaits analyses of the Bennu samples that will soon be delivered to Earth.


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