NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft, which is currently on its way to grab samples from an asteroid, has returned a stunning image of Earth and the Moon in the process.
The spacecraft took the image on October 2, 2017, just after it made a flyby of Earth, although the image has only just been released by NASA. At this time the Moon was about 240,000 miles from Earth.
Osiris-Rex took this image from a distance of more than 3 million miles from Earth, or more than 13 times the Earth-Moon distance. It was taken by combining three images from different color wavelengths.
The spacecraft was launched on September 8, 2016, but in order to reach its target, it then orbited the Sun for a year before flying past Earth to get a speed boost from our planet’s gravity. It made its closest approach to our planet, an altitude of 11,000 miles, on September 22, 2017, and took this image 10 days later.
This will give it enough speed to reach Bennu (the asteroid), with the spacecraft due to rendezvous with the asteroid in August 2018 at a distance of about 200 million miles from Earth. In total, the spacecraft will travel 4.5 billion miles to reach Bennu.
Once at the asteroid it will use a robotic arm to collect samples in July 2020. In March 2021, the spacecraft will begin its journey back to Earth, and in September 2023 the sample will be delivered in a capsule back to Earth – the biggest sample returned since the Apollo missions. It’s hoped this sample could tell us more about the origins of life on Earth.