Bennu is ready for its close-up.
Source: Popular Mechanics
The asteroid, which passes Earth every six years, had its photo taken at a closer distance than ever before thanks to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The photo was snapped a mere 0.4 miles (690 meters) from Bennu’s surface.
NASA is studying Bennu to better understand the origins of life. The agency calls the tiny asteroid a “silent witness to titanic events in the solar system’s 4.6 billion year history.” There’s also a chance that it will strike sometime in between 2175 and 2199.
OSIRIS-REx was launched in 2016 to visit the asteroid and retrieve a sample. It’s expected to return with a chunk of Bennu in 2024, offering scientists a potentially unprecedented look into the past.
For now, the close-up will have to suffice. NASA used OSIRIS-REx’s Touch-and-Go Camera System (TAGCAMS) to take the shot on June 13. Part of the guidance, navigation, and control systems on the spacecraft, the TAGCAMS system is equipped with two optical cameras built for navigation known as NavCams. NavCam-1 used its 5 Megapixel monochrome camera for the shot.
OSIRIS-REx (a mouthful of an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) is currently in an orbit around Bennu, holding steady at 0.4 miles above the surface. Getting close matters; the closer the photo, the more chances for detail. In the picture above, NASA scientists can identify details 6 feet (0.5 m) across.
But the spacecraft is just getting warmed up. NASA is shooting for July 4, 2020 as the date for picking up the sample. It will require the Touch-and-Go system to touch the Bennu surface for 5 seconds. And for scientists looking to understand the universe’s earliest days, those 5 seconds will offer up billions of years to study.