It’s been called the “most dangerous rock in the Solar System,” named after an Egyptian deity, the Bennu bird. The Bennu asteroid, or near-Earth object, is shaped like a spinning top and is about the size of the Empire State Building.
Bennu orbits the Sun and makes a relatively close pass of Earth every six years. But it’s expected to come within a dangerous distance of Earth exactly 159 years from September 24, 2023. That’s the day a capsule containing a sample of the asteroid landed in the Utah desert.
Seven years ago, in 2016, NASA’s 1$ billion dollar mission, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft, launched on a mission to collect a small sample from Bennu. Osiris-Rex was named after the Egyptian deity Osiris. Meanwhile, Rex means “King” in Latin and refers to the spacecraft’s “Regolith Explorer.” It’s definitely a lofty name for any spacecraft.
A short video about Osiris via HISTORY:
The Key Ingredients of Life from Bennu
The mission to Bennu may unlock secrets for scientists about the formation of the Solar System and why Earth became habitable. But data collected from the asteroid sample will also be useful as researchers attempt to design defenses against any potential catastrophic impacts on Earth in the future.
“Scientists hope the pristine samples it dropped into the Utah desert offer clues to whether asteroids colliding with Earth billions of years ago brought water and other key ingredients for life,” NASA shared.
While taking the scientific approach to determine the origins of life, it’s curious they chose ancient Egyptian spiritual names. On the surface level, Osiris is considered the “Ruler of the Afterlife” with the power to grant life. But for those who understand the esoteric meanings, it’s much more profound about internal enlightenment and a spiritual resurrection attainable for every human aspirant, very much like Jesus or Buddha. But one probably wouldn’t name a spacecraft Jesus.
Video by NASA Goddard:
Egyptian-Inspired Names, Osiris and Bennu
Students from around the world submitted their choices of names for the asteroid in a contest called “Name That Asteroid!” in 2012. Out of over eight thousand international responses, the Egyptian name Bennu, “the ascending one,” was chosen. A review panel decided on the winner.
“The name ‘Bennu’ struck a chord with many of us right away,” said Bruce Betts of the Planetary Society. “The parallel with asteroids as both bringers of life and as destructive forces in the solar system also created a great opportunity to teach about planetary science,” reported the New York Daily News.
The winning name came from a third grader from North Carolina, Michael Puzio.
“It’s great! I’m the first kid I know that named part of the solar system!” said Puzio at the time.
Puzio and his space-enthusiast dad looked up a Wikipedia article about Osiris when they learned the name of the spacecraft.
“We read the Wikipedia article about [Osiris], and the name Bennu stood out, Bennu being how Osiris returned to Earth,” Puzio recently told Space and Things.
Video by Space and Things with Larry and Michael Puzio:
Puzio also reportedly thought the arm and solar panels of Osiris-Rex resembled the neck and wings of the Egyptian Bennu, sometimes depicted as a now-extinct giant heron. But the Bennu likely also inspired the Greek legend of the Phoenix, a bird rising from the ashes of a fire.
In many ways, the Egyptian meaning differs significantly from the Greek Phoenix. The Bennu flew over the primordial waters before creation, landed on a rock and gave out a cackle or cry that ended the former silence of the universe. Scientifically, this ancient spiritual concept sounds much like the Big Bang theory.
Additionally, the Bennu bird was considered a “manifestation of the resurrected Osiris” and heralded Ra’s return, the Sun God, according to an Egyptian source. Some depictions show the Bennu wearing the same crown worn by Osiris. The theme of being born again is similar to the Phoenix rising from the ashes.
The Benu Bird by Atum:
Osiris-Rex Heads for Apophis
After a successful round trip of 3.86 billion miles, Osiris-Rex will attempt to visit Apophis, another asteroid, again curiously named after Egyptian beliefs.
NASA says Apophis was named for the “demon serpent who personified evil and chaos in ancient Egyptian mythology.”
A more esoteric meaning is that Apophis has a goal to return the entire universe of consciousness to the state before the beginning of earthly duality. In scientific terms, it’s like the law of entropy chaos.
Like the Bennu asteroid, the near-Earth object has been considered a potential hazard for Earth one day, although downplayed upon further study. Once, astronomers feared Apophis could impact Earth in 2029, but that risk was later ruled out. Interestingly, Osiris-Rex is now scheduled to reach the 1,100-foot asteroid in 2029.
In Egyptian beliefs, Ra takes on the form of a hawk to fight Apophis, depicted as a giant undulating snake. But in the deeper meaning these images aren’t literal, they are ways of describing abstract concepts: the the laws of nature and the universe. How can science make sense of the extremely complex order of all of life given the tendency of all things to move from order to disorder?
Mysterious Ashes from Bennu
When the capsule from Osiris-Rex touched down in Utah, scientists carefully tested the surrounding area for possible extraterrestrial contaminants. After taking the object back to a specially prepared, airtight room at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, they discovered mysterious black dust inside a top part of the canister. Consequently, they temporarily halted opening the remaining contents.
Before proceeding, they will analyze the unidentifiable black residue, the ashes of the Bennu, which brings to mind the ashes of the Phoenix.
According to The Daily Mail, the dark, fine dust probably leaked from the canister after collection in 2020. A stone temporarily jammed the mechanism, but the problem was later resolved.
Before collecting the sample, Osiris-Rex mapped the surfaces of Bennu for nearly two years.
In several weeks, the scientists plan to open the canister containing a cup-sized sample (9 ounces) of 4.5 billion-year-old rubble. Eventually, samples will go to researchers across the planet, including in Japan and Canada.
NASa brings home samples from Bennu via WSJ News: