The asteroid-orbiting OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has released some of its most detailed images yet of its target, the asteroid Bennu. And they’re breathtaking.
The spacecraft took these images on January 17 when it was only a mile (1.6 kilometres) above Bennu’s surface, using its NavCam 1 navigation camera, according to a NASA release. That camera is, as the name suggests, used for keeping track of OSIRIS REx’s orbit around Bennu.
Here are the images in full, which show two views of Bennu’s south pole captured with a 1/700 second shutter speed.
Image: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin
OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 with the goal of studying and collecting samples from an asteroid close to Earth. The craft arrived at Bennu in early December 2018, and began its orbit around Bennu in January. The asteroid, at only around 1,700 feet in diameter, is now the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft. From top to bottom, the asteroid is around the size of Chicago’s Willis Tower or New York’s Freedom Tower.
Orbiting something so small is a big challenge, since the object has only a slight gravitational field. The spacecraft uses these images to help calibrate that difficult orbit.
There are plenty of other images on the Bennu site, which has been updating as the mission progresses. But these are definitely the clearest images yet.