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article imageOSIRIS-REx captures first images of asteroid Bennu

By Karen Graham     Aug 26, 2018 in Technology
Osiris-REx, NASA's asteroid-sampling spacecraft, has captured its very first images of the deep-space target it’s currently hurtling toward — a nearly half-mile-wide space rock orbiting the Sun named Bennu.
Announced on Friday, the images are the latest milestone in an ambitious attempt to study the asteroid in detail and, hopefully, to bring back samples from its surface.
The five images were captured by the PolyCam camera on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft over the course of an hour while the mission's navigation team was checking calibration parameters after the spacecraft had already traveled approximately 1.1 billion miles (1.8 billion km) since its September 8, 2016, launch.
At the time the images were captured, the spacecraft was only 1.4 million miles (2.3 million km) from asteroid Bennu … and closing. Keep in mind that because Osiris-REx was so far away from its target, Bennu appears as just a few pixels of light moving across space.
But even so, this does nothing to diminish the excitement felt by the Osiris-REx team, reports The Verge. The images show the spacecraft is right on track and Bennu is where they expected.
“Many of us have been working for years and years and years to get this first image down,” Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said during a press conference on Friday.
Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission at the University of Arizona told reporters, "I can't explain enough how much it meant to this team. I know Bennu is only a point of light here, but many of us have been working for years and years and years to get this first image down, and it really represents the beginning of the great scientific expedition that is OSIRIS-REx."
Image of asteroid 101955 Bennu taken by Indian Space Research Organization on June 29  2014.
Image of asteroid 101955 Bennu taken by Indian Space Research Organization on June 29, 2014.
Final preparations for getting up-close-and-personal with Bennu
The flight plan for approaching Bennu calls for a very cautious final approach. Four approach maneuvers will be done through October and November, and if everything goes according to plan, the spacecraft should be ready to begin flying in formation with the asteroid on December 3.
This is when Osiris-REx will begin a series of close-range fly-bys before slipping into an orbit around Bennu on New Year's Eve. That milestone will be one of three coming up for NASA this fall.
NASA's InSight Mars lander is over halfway to its target, on course for a touchdown Nov. 26 to explore the deep interior of the red planet. And the agency's New Horizons probe, nor over one billion miles and four years beyond its fly-by of Pluto in 2014, is expected to zoom past a small Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule on New Year's Day,
With the images hopefully sent back from the New Horizon probe, scientists and the world, too, will get a chance to look at a chunk of debris left over from the birth of the solar system some 4.6 billion years ago.
"The whole fall, as I say, is going to be pretty cram-packed with exciting planetary events with InSight landing on the surface of Mars, OSIRIS-REx arriving at Bennu and going into orbit at the end of (December) and New Horizons executing the flyby of MU-69/Ultima Thule on Jan. 1," said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters.
More about OSIRISREx, Asteroid, Bennu, first images, Technology
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