The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured these images of Bennu's South Pole on January 17th.
Credit: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin
NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission runs around an asteroid closer than any spacecraft that ever brought a body ̵
The spacecraft threw around the asteroid, called Bennu, on December 31, after the team carefully mapped the object to design a safe path to the probe. It was a challenge, as Bennu is the smallest space rock ever tied.
But the dangerous maneuver has paid. OSIRIS-REX orbits about 1.6 km above the Bennus surface, giving its cameras a stunning view of the asteroid's rocky surface. Scientists believe that robust form is the result of Bennu forming from a bunch of rubies loosely clumped together. [The Greatest Asteroid Encounters of All Time!]
The two images shown here were taken by an instrument called NavCam, which is the main camera the team uses to control the spacecraft. The photos, which were fixed on January 17, show Bennu's South Pole.
Another recently released image of Bennu & # 39; s South Pole, taken while the spacecraft is preparing for circuits, was captured at a distance of about. 8 km (12 km) but still gives researchers a detailed picture of the surface topography.
This image was taken by another camera on the spacecraft, called MapCam, which is one of the probe's science instruments rather than a dedicated navigation camera. The main purpose is to photograph the asteroid in color and help the team choose where it will collect a sample to bring home to Earth for analysis.
The sampling process begins only in mid-2020 after the team has had plenty of time to study Bennu from all angles and make a well-informed decision on where to assemble the sample – partly informed by detailed observations of the surface block that could interfere with sampling equipment.