AUG 26, 2018 04:36 PM PDT

NASA's OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Snaps its First Picture of Bennu

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission is now one step closer to realizing its primary goal of becoming the first spacecraft to visit a near-Earth object (NEO), collect a sample from its surface, and return it to Earth for analysis.

OSIRIS-REx is targeting an ancient asteroid known as Bennu for its scientific observations. The spacecraft launched from Earth’s surface on September 8th, 2016, and has traveled approximately 1.1 billion miles away from our planet during its two-year journey through space.

The new image of Bennu captured by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

But as NASA notes in an official statement, OSIRIS-REx is beginning to close in on Bennu, and the spacecraft’s onboard PolyCam camera recently snagged its first image of the asteroid from 1.4 million miles away.

“Now that OSIRIS-REx is close enough to observe Bennu, the mission team will spend the next few months learning as much as possible about Bennu’s size, shape, surface features, and surroundings before the spacecraft arrives at the asteroid,” explained Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission.

“After spending so long planning for this moment, I can’t wait to see what Bennu reveals to us.”

When OSIRIS-REx finally arrives at its destination, it will study the body up close. The spacecraft will transmit its findings back to scientists on Earth, providing them with a front-row seat to Bennu’s physical characteristics.

At first, it will investigate whether Bennu exhibits any dust plumes or natural satellites, and then it will move on to studying the body’s light and spectral properties. Then it will begin documenting the body’s shape and unique surface features.

Later, OSIRIS-REx will fly close to Bennu’s surface at one of two plausible sample sites to agitate the surface and generate airborne dust. It’s this very dust that the spacecraft will then attempt to capture for its sample to be returned to Earth. 

But none of this will be easy; Bennu is perhaps the single smallest object that any spacecraft will have ever orbited, and its small gravitational influence poses the most significant challenge of all concerning getting OSIRIS-REx to orbit it correctly.

“Bennu’s low gravity provides a unique challenge for the mission," explained project manager Rich Burns of NASA. "At roughly 0.3 miles in diameter, Bennu will be the smallest object that any spacecraft has ever orbited.”

Fortunately, engineers have thought this through and will utilize four separate maneuvers to slow the spacecraft down during its approach to make this work.

So, why Bennu of all the asteroids out there? It’s of particular interest because of the lingering threat that it could collide with Earth between the years 2175 and 2199. That said, scientists want to know more about it.

Related: This is how NASA will prepare for future near-Earth object collisions

With an official tango date of December 3rd, 2018, it should be interesting to see how the OSIRIS-REx mission will go and whether it will yield the results we’ve been hoping for. But with some crossed fingers and patience, everything should go just fine.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUL 31, 2018
Chemistry & Physics
JUL 31, 2018
Where Does Earth Get Its Water
We live on Earth, the so-called blue planet. Without water, Earth would not be "blue" at all, not to mention the life that is bred on the planet...
AUG 12, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 12, 2018
NASA's Parker Solar Probe Rockets Toward the Sun
There’s been some serious hype regarding NASA’s Parker Solar Probe in recent memory, but now all that hype is now closer than it ever has been...
SEP 17, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 17, 2018
How Common Are Planetary Collisions?
Outer space is nothing short of a galactic free-for-all. Space rocks fly in virtually every direction, sporadically impacting larger objects like moons, pl...
OCT 15, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 15, 2018
Picking a Landing Site On Mars is No Easy Task
When space agencies like NASA send landers and rovers to other places in the solar system to explore, one of the most challenging questions they’re c...
OCT 31, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 31, 2018
ESA's European Service Module is Now Ready to be Shipped to the U.S.
Deep space exploration is slowly becoming the primary focus of major space agencies around the globe, and NASA’s Orion spacecraft is poised to become...
NOV 09, 2018
Chemistry & Physics
NOV 09, 2018
The Quest to Determine the Length of a Saturnian Day Becomes the Gift that Keeps on Giving
As humankind sets sight on the interstellar space, some may forget that there are still plenty of mysteries remained within our planetary backyard. Take Sa...
Loading Comments...