NASA’s Spacecraft Takes Image of Asteroid’s Surface 1.4 Billion Miles From Earth

NASA's Asteroid Chasing Spacecraft Reveals Most Detailed View of Asteroid Bennu

Here’s your chance to take a peek at asteroid Bennu in unprecedented, never-before-seen images.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has revealed the most detailed view of the asteroid’s surface, taken 1.4 billion miles away from home, as the spacecraft hovered one mile above its surface.

At around 1,600 feet across, asteroid Bennu is the smallest cosmic object ever orbited by a spacecraft, and the latest batch of images (posted by OSIRIS-REx’s Twitter account, shows Bennu in staggering, unprecedented detail, as the spacecraft performed its initial survey.

Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The new images show the asteroids South Pole in staggering detail.

“As I fly around Bennu during Orbital A, my scientific cameras are not collecting data,” the OSIRIS-REx Twitter Account revealed.

“But my navCam 1 imager is taking ‘OpNav’ (short for optical navigation) images like these to help monitor my path around the asteroid.”

These two OpNav images of Bennu’s southern hemisphere, which each have an exposure time of about 1.4 milliseconds, were captured Jan. 17 from a distance of about one mile (1.6 km). Image Credit: OSIRIS-REx.
These two OpNav images of Bennu’s southern hemisphere, which each have an exposure time of about 1.4 milliseconds, were captured Jan. 17 from a distance of about one mile (1.6 km). Image Credit: OSIRIS-REx.

The OSIRIS-REx mission was launched two years ago in a never-before-attempted mission. It aims to return samples from the asteroid’s surface to Earth by 2023.

The spacecraft will orbit its target for twelve months after which it will drop down to its surface and however above it to grab samples of dirt and rock.

Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx collecting samples. Image Credit: NASA.
Artist’s concept of OSIRIS-REx collecting samples. Image Credit: NASA.

Its ultimate goal is to bring back to Earth a sample of at least 2.1 ounces.

Image Credit: NASA's OSIRIS-REx.
Image Credit: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx.

The mission is breaking records while helping us understand potentially hazardous asteroids such as Bennu.

“For those keeping track at home…I’ve traveled just under 2.2 billion km (1.4 billion miles) since leaving home in Sept 2016,” the Twitter account wrote.

https://twitter.com/OSIRISREx/status/1087396446331035649

“I’ll remain in orbit around Bennu until late February when I begin a series of flybys for Detailed Survey.”

The asteroid currently studied by the NASA spacecraft is thought to be extremely rich in organic material, and contain molecular precursors to life.

Image Credit: NASA's OSIRIS-REx.
Image Credit: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx.

Studying it may help reveal how life on Earth came into existence, and whether or not asteroids and comets played an important role in life spring into existence on our planet.

NASA has explained in the past that: “Analyzing a sample from Bennu will help planetary scientists better understand the role asteroids may have played in delivering life-forming compounds to Earth.”

Image Credit: NASA's OSIRIS-REx.
Image Credit: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx.

“We know from having studied Bennu through Earth- and space-based telescopes that it is a carbonaceous, or carbon-rich, asteroid. Carbon is the hinge upon which organic molecules hang.”

“Bennu is likely rich in organic molecules, which are made of chains of carbon bonded with atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, and other elements in a chemical recipe that makes all known living things.”

“Besides carbon, Bennu also might have another component important to life: water, which is trapped in the minerals that make up the asteroid.”

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