This image that on Dec. 19, 2018, by a camera on the Osiris-Rex spacecraft shows that the asteroid Bennu, above right, approximately 27 miles (43 km) of the spacecraft, and the Earth and the moon, bottom left, more than 70 million miles (110 million miles away. Bennu, just 1,600 feet (500 meters), and is the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin Space via AP)
Almost a month after reaching his destination, circling the asteroid Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has snapped an incredible image of the Earth.
The image was snapped days before OSIRIS-REx went in orbit around Bennu on New Year’s Eve. The small asteroid — less than one-third of a mile across — is shown as a large bright spot on the long-exposure photos released last week.
Almost 70 million kilometres away the Earth appears as a white dot, with the moon a still smaller dot, but still clearly visible.
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OSIRIS-REx is the first spacecraft to orbit a small celestial body, and from such a close distance of about a mile. Next year, Osiris-Rex will try to collect a number of samples from the carbon-rich asteroid, for the return to Earth in 2023.
Launched from Florida in 2016, OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reaches Bennu on Dec. 3 after a journey of more than 1 billion kilometres through space. The spacecraft will spend nearly a year of research at the space rock out of a job.
A week after it landed, OSIRIS-REx identified water is locked up in the asteroid clay, NASA announced. The spacecraft’s two spectrometers revealed the presence of “hydroxyls”, which are molecules that oxygen and hydrogen atoms connected with each other.
“While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding indicates that liquid water was present at a particular time on Bennu’s parent company, a much larger asteroid,” NASA said in the statement.
The asteroid that may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to the space agency.
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The probe is scheduled to comment briefly on the asteroid with a robotic arm in July 2020, and the retrieval of a sample returned to Earth in September 2023.
The Associated Press and Fox News’ James Rogers contributed to this report.
Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia