Some 71 million miles from Earth, NASA's intrepid OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is orbiting a 1,650-foot-wide space rock known as asteroid Bennu. This is the space agency's first asteroid-sampling mission, currently going head-to-head with the Japanese Hayabusa-2 probe for the title of first spacecraft to retrieve material from a carbon-rich asteroid.
While Hayabusa-2 is currently preparing to descend to the surface of asteroid Ryugu in February, as the Inquisitr reported yesterday, OSIRIS-REx has only recently reached the target of its mission.
After its big rendezvous with Bennu on December 3, the NASA probe slipped into a tight orbit around the asteroid on December 31, circling the space rock from a distance of about a mile from its center. In doing so, the OSIRIS-REx mission broke the records for closest orbit of a celestial body and smallest planetary object to ever be orbited by a man-made spacecraft, the Inquisitr reported last week.
Twelve days before reaching this incredible milestone, OSIRIS-REx captured a stunning photograph of its surroundings. The amazing snapshot, taken on December 19 by the spacecraft's NavCam 1 imager, showcases a dazzling view of asteroid Bennu next to a glorious appearance by the Earth and the moon.
"Here's something you don't see every day: Earth, the moon and a potentially dangerous asteroid, all in the same frame," notes Space.
The amazing photograph was taken less than two weeks before OSIRIS-REx went into orbit around Bennu, when the probe was about 27 miles away from the asteroid. The new snapshot shows Bennu shining brighter than ever, sporting an incandescent glow in the image's upper right corner. Meanwhile, Earth and the moon huddle together in the distance and are visible in the lower left corner of the pic.
"Despite the spacecraft's distance from home," notes the OSIRIS-REx website, "Earth and the Moon are visible in the lower left due to the long exposure time used for this image (five seconds)."
"The head of the constellation Hydra is also visible in the lower right portion of the image.""An entire journey in one frame," the OSIRIS-REx team announced via Twitter.
This is not the first time that OSIRIS-REx has relayed images of the Earth and the moon. Last year, the spacecraft snapped two other photos of our planet and its natural satellite while on its way to asteroid Bennu.
The first one was on September 25, 2017 — just three days after OSIRIS-REx performed an Earth gravity assist maneuver to adjust its speed and trajectory in hot pursuit of asteroid Bennu.
The photo was taken by the NavCam 1 from a distance of 804,000 miles from Earth and 735,000 miles from the moon, and portrays the two celestial bodies some 249,000 miles from each other.
A second photo of Earth and the moon was shared by the OSIRIS-REx team a month later. Snapped by the probe's MapCam imager, the pic is a color portrait of our planet and the moon, taken on October 2, 2017, from roughly 3.18 million miles from Earth.
Although Bennu has been described as a potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroid, the diamond-shaped space rock poses no immediate threat. According to NASA, the 1,650-foot asteroid stands a small chance of ending up in a collision course with Earth in about 150 years.
"The earliest possible year in which the asteroid could hit our planet is 2175, and the chance of the impact happening in that year is 1 in 24,000," explained the space agency.
The statement clarifies earlier reports that Bennu might be heading toward our planet half a century earlier, in 2135, with a 1 in 2,700 chance of smashing into Earth.
"The stories state the odds of Bennu hitting our planet as 'about 1 in 2,700' and imply this is the impact probability for a single year. But, in fact, those odds are the cumulative probability of impact overall years between 2175 and 2199."