NASA releases Earth image captured by OSIRIS-REx during flyby

MapCam will image asteroid Bennu in late 2018

A color composite image of Earth taken on Sept. 22, 2017 by the MapCam camera on NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a flyby. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

NASA released a stunning color image of Earth Tuesday taken by its asteroid-chasing spacecraft during a quick energy-saving flyby.

OSIRIS-REx, set to map and collect samples from asteroid Bennu in late 2018, got to test out its science instruments Friday while also getting a gravity boost from Earth. One of those instruments, MapCam, captured several pictures Friday that the spacecraft’s imaging team combined to become the beauty you see at the top of this story. The global color composite was created using images from three filters, principal investigator Dante Lauretta said.

The image was taken a few hours after the Earth gravity assist from 106,000 miles away. MapCam is part of OSIRIS-REx camera suite operated by the University of Arizona. The Pacific Ocean and lower Australia can be seen in the image, as well as the southwestern U.S.

The black melting-like streaks at the top of the image were caused by short exposure times, which were less than three milliseconds, according to NASA. Quick exposure times were necessary to capture Earth, but won’t be a problem for a darker object like asteroid Bennu, according to mission managers.

OSIRIS-REx launched from Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 8, 2016, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and has been orbiting the sun ever since readying for its near-Earth flyby.

The slingshot by Earth allowed OSIRIS-REx to save energy by using the planet’s gravity as an extra boost and putting the probe in line with its target, Bennu.

After the flyby, the OSIRIS-REx team will be able to better calibrate the spacecraft's instruments using the images and data taken of the Earth and the moon, said Humberto Campins, a University of Central Florida physics and astronomy professor and a member of OSIRIS-REx's science team.

OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer, will collect a sample of surface material to return to Earth in 2023.

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