Right now, NASA’s Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security - Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is hurtling through the void in order to link up with an asteroid named Bennu in 2018. While the intrepid spacecraft still has a way to go until its big rendezvous, today it’ll casually fly by Earth. Unfortunately, it poses no immediate danger to our planet, but if you’ve got a good telescope with a camera, you might even be able to snap a pic!
At around 5:52pm GMT, OSIRIS-REx made its closest approach to Earth, missing us by just 11,000 miles (about 17,700 km), reports the New York Times. It’ll zoom over Australia and Antarctica at about 19,000 miles per hour (30,580 km per hour), grabbing some momentum so that it can slingshot itself toward Bennu. This gravity assist from Earth will nudge the spacecraft up about six degrees, putting it on track to hook up with Bennu.
“The Earth Gravity Assist is a clever way to move the spacecraft onto Bennu’s orbital plane using Earth’s own gravity instead of expending fuel,” Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, said in a statement.
OSIRIS-REx left Earth in September 2016 on its journey toward Bennu—but it’ll be back. The spacecraft will take samples of the asteroid, which scientists believe contains molecules that date back to the birth of the solar system. The spacecraft will return a few pounds of rocky samples to Earth in 2023.
While there’s not a tonne of science that can be done with today’s flyby, it’s a cool photo opp. The OSIRIS-REx team is encouraging the public to post any pictures to their website, because hey, you never know. If you’re in Australia—or Antarctica, for some reason—now’s your chance to shine. [New York Times]