Antara Sen ’23 was only months into their first year at Ithaca College when they reached out to Beth Ellen Clark, professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, to express their interest in NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission.
For six months, Sen, a dual physics and mathematics major, carried out a study that explored the spectral color characteristics of boulder textures on the mission’s target – asteroid Bennu—studying “mudpie” laboratory simulations of the surface composition of the asteroid.
The mudpies are a series of laboratory simulations of Bennu’s surface that were synthesized using a clay mineral called saponite along with either graphite or carbon lampblack. The proportions of clay to carbon were based on previous studies of Bennu’s surface. The components were first mixed together in powder form, then mixed with water to create slurries before being baked.
This allowed them to manipulate the textures of the optical surface – and describe the color consequences. This work helped to explain the color variations observed across the asteroid Bennu.