Launched just a little over a year ago on September 8th, 2016, NASA launched the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer spacecraft, or OSIRIS-REx. Its mission is to head to the asteroid Bennu, collect a sample of a little over 2 ounces from the planet, and return with the data in 2023. OSIRIS-REx is being manned by the Goddard Space Flight Center.
As the spacecraft approached the Earth for its Earth Gravity Assist to help it reach Bennu on September 22nd, the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory in Arizona captured the very first Earth-based image of OSIRIS-REx since it launched! In the image captured where the spacecraft is squared off in red, the Binocular Telescope Observatory was able to take the image from seven million miles away.
Manned on the Tucson campus of the University of Arizona, the Large Binocular Telescope consists of two twenty-seven and a half foot mirrors mounted side by side, which enables the resolution to be around seventy-five feet.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft holds an important mission for humanity and the study of our home planet. Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid whose regolith (surface layer rocky material) could record the earliest history of the Solar System. Bennu’s regolith and composition could help us to understand the origins of life and our oceans. Bennu is also considered to be a hazardous asteroid with a possible physical impact on Earth in the late 22nd century, so examining it now will help with the understanding our past interaction with the asteroid as well as any future impacts. The success of the LBT is also a testament of the technological developments and goals of the telescope as a forefront of scientific discovery. We will continue to learn more about the planet and Solar System we live in with the help of spacecrafts and telescopes like these!