Implications for Ice Stability and Particle Ejection From High-Resolution Temperature Modeling of Asteroid (101955) Bennu

B. Rozitis, J. P. Emery, M. A. Siegler, H. C.M. Susorney, J. L. Molaro, C. W. Hergenrother, D. S. Lauretta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The finding by the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer) mission that its target (101955) Bennu is an active asteroid has raised questions as to whether the observed particle ejection events are driven by temperature. To investigate sublimation of water ice and rock thermal fracture as possible temperature-driven causes, we modeled the global temperatures of Bennu and searched for correlations with the identified ejection points on the asteroid surface. We computed temperatures with the Advanced Thermophysical Model and the 75-cm-resolution global shape model of Bennu derived by the OSIRIS-REx mission. We find that ~1,856 m2 of Bennu's polar regions have orbit-averaged temperatures that are sufficiently cold to enable water ice, if buried within the top few meters of the surface, to remain stable over geological timescales. Millimeter thick layers of surface water ice are also stable over ~103-year timescales within polar centimeter-scale cold traps. However, we do not find evidence of conditions enabling ice stability in the warmer equatorial regions, where ejection events have been observed, implying that sublimation of water ice is not the cause of particle ejection. Conversely, rock thermal fracture remains a possible mechanism of particle ejection. We find high amplitudes of diurnal temperature variation, a proxy for the efficacy of thermal fracturing, at all latitudes on Bennu due to its extreme ruggedness. Therefore, if rock thermal fracture is the mechanism, particles could be ejected from any latitude, which is consistent with the continued observations of particle ejection by OSIRIS-REx.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019JE006323
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • Bennu
  • ice stability
  • particle ejection
  • temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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