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Science and Innovations

Asteroid Mission Takes First Photo of Its Destination


An Arizona-led spacecraft mission is headed toward a carbon-rich asteroid called Bennu, and today it’s close enough to take the first photograph of its destination. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

OSIRIS-REx launched two years ago and is now 1.2 million miles from Bennu. Michael Nolan leads the mission’s science team at the University of Arizona. He says today’s photograph won’t reveal anything new about the asteroid. It will appear as a dot smaller than a pixel.

"Most of it’s going to be making sure all our systems work, we’re going to test out some of the procedures we’re going to use later," says Nolan. "And of course we’re excited because we’ve been waiting to get there and this is the first time we’re really going to see where we’re going."

Nolan says Bennu holds clues to the solar system’s formation and the origin of life.

Today is the start of the mission’s “approach phase,” during which the spacecraft will gather data and run systems tests. OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu in December and spend more than a year making observations. Then it will collect a sample of the asteroid and return to Earth.

The image of Bennu is being processed and will be published next week.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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