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Here’s what NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft sees as it orbits Bennu asteroid

Published Jan 8th, 2019 10:04PM EST
bennu asteroid
Image: NASA

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It’s only been about a week since NASA successfully inserted its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe into orbit around the large space rock known as Bennu, after initially arriving in early December. The diamond-shaped object will quickly become one of the most closely-studied asteroids ever, but for now NASA wants to learn as much about Bennu’s surface as possible, and that means observing it from every angle.

In a new video animation that has been stitched together from numerous still shots we get one of our best looks yet at the asteroid. As the probe circles the rock, its powerful lens has captured Bennu from just about every angle, making for a neat little movie.

“During the month of December, the spacecraft performed a preliminary survey of Bennu, conducting three flyovers of the asteroid’s north pole and one each of its equator and south pole,” NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team explains. “The data gathered during these flybys allowed the mission team to more precisely estimate Bennu’s mass so that the spacecraft could go into orbit around the asteroid.”

OSIRIS-REx has a fairly long road ahead of it before NASA declares the mission a complete success. The spacecraft will remain in orbit around Bennu for at least the next year or so, closely studying it and delivering even more images of its messy surface. During that time, NASA will decide on a spot from which to collect a material sample, eventually touching down on Bennu and retrieving some of its surface material before flying back to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx is expected to arrive back on Earth sometime in 2023, at which point eager scientists will have an opportunity to study the sample in great detail. If everything goes according to plan, the mission should teach scientists a great deal about asteroid formation and perhaps even give us a window into the earliest days of our Solar System.