NASA reveals stunning image of asteroid surface in closest ever orbital photograph
Published Wednesday, June 19, 2019 9:07AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 19, 2019 1:20PM EDT
NASA has released a stunning close-up image of an asteroid from one of its spacecraft, setting a new record for the closest ever orbit of a planetary body.
The picture was captured on June 13, shortly after OSIRIS-REx began a new phase of its mission, known as Orbital B.
The manoeuvre saw the craft orbit just 680 metres above the surface of asteroid Bennu as it travelled through space more than 90 million miles from Earth.
“From the spacecraft’s vantage point in orbit, half of Bennu is sunlit and half is in shadow,” NASA wrote in a statement.
“Bennu’s largest boulder can also be seen protruding from the southern hemisphere.”
At such close range, details as small as half a metre can be seen in the centre of the image.
Bennu is one of the smallest objects ever visited by spacecraft, NASA said.
For the remaining part of its mission the spacecraft will map the entire asteroid using its onboard instruments.
All of the measurements will be used to select the best sample collection site on Bennu’s surface, NASA said.
“This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of the Solar System over 4.5 billion years ago,” NASA wrote.
Sample collection is scheduled for summer of 2020, and the spacecraft will deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023.
OSIRIS-REx, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, was launched in 2016 on a seven year mission to study Bennu.