NASA's OSIRIS-REx captures close-up of near-Earth asteroid Bennu before landing

OSIRIS-REx is expected to return with samples collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 2023.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, launched to study a near-Earth asteroid Bennu, beamed back a “super-resolution” picture of the asteroid this week.

The spacecraft captured a view of Bennu ahead of it reaching the asteroid in a month’s time to collect and return samples as part of its 7-year mission. These drilled bits from Bennu’s surface could help geologists and astrophysicists uncover data about how the Solar system came to exist.

Bennu’s snapshot was pieced together by NASA scientists from eight images taken by OSIRIS-REx’s camera on 20 October from an impressive 770 kilometres away.

The spacecraft’s PolyCam camera captured a series of images over one minute as OSIRIS-REx approached the slowly-rotating Bennu.

“Bennu occupies about 100 pixels and is oriented with its north pole at the top of the image,” NASA said in a statement.

 NASAs OSIRIS-REx captures close-up of near-Earth asteroid Bennu before landing

An artist's concept of the OSIRIS-REx's sample collection instrument, TAGSAM. Image courtesy: NASA

Launched in September 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will reach the asteroid in December this year, carrying five science instruments to study the asteroid’s composition and the loose material covering Bennu’s surface called ‘regolith’. This soil-like planetary dust is telling of the amount of carbon and the effect of the Sun’s radiation on its surface.

After it approaches the asteroid in a few weeks, OSIRIS-REx will switch to another camera onboard — the MapCam — to generate more detailed coloured maps of Bennu’s silicate and water composition.

OSIRIS-Rex is expected to return with samples from the near-Earth asteroid in 2023.

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