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Tue Jan 8, 2019, 12:56 PM

Zoom! Asteroid Bennu Slips Past in OSIRIS-REx Flyby View

By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com Contributor | January 8, 2019 07:15am ET

A spooky new series of photos of the asteroid Bennu show the diamond-shaped space rock approaching the camera and receding into the distance during a trio of flybys by a NASA spacecraft.

The video animation of the asteroid images comes courtesy of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which arrived at the little world on Dec. 3. After flybys such as this one, OSIRIS-REx used the data to enter orbit around the asteroid on Dec. 31.

OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) has an ambitious goal of scooping up material from Bennu and returning the sample to Earth for analysis. But before the spacecraft can descend to the asteroid's surface, mission planners must look at pictures and data and other information to give the spacecraft the best chance of a safe landing. [The Greatest Asteroid Encounters of All Time!]

Even before that, there was the challenge of getting into orbit.

"During the month of December, the spacecraft performed a preliminary survey of Bennu, conducting three flyovers of the asteroid's north pole and one each of its equator and south pole," OSIRIS-REx researchers said in a statement. "The data gathered during these flybys allowed the mission team to more precisely estimate Bennu's mass so that the spacecraft could go into orbit around the asteroid."


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