An asteroid-circling spacecraft has captured a cool snapshot of home.
NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft took the picture days before going into orbit around asteroid Bennu on New Year’s Eve.
The tiny asteroid — barely one-third of a mile (500 meters) across — appears as a big bright blob in the long-exposure photo released last week. Seventy million miles (110 million kilometers) away, Earth appears as a white dot, with the moon an even smaller dot but still clearly visible.
Osiris-Rex is the first spacecraft to orbit such a small celestial body, and from such a close distance — about a mile (1,600 meters) out.
NASA has ruled that the pair of asteroids flying by Earth this weekend could pose a threat to our planet.
“These asteroids have been well observed – once since 2000 and the other since 2010 – and their orbits are very well known,” said NASA’s Planetary Defence Officer Lindley Johnson.
“Both of these asteroids are passing at about 14 lunar distances from the Earth, or about 3.5 million miles away, but small asteroids pass by Earth this close all the time,” Johnson said.
Near-Earth asteroid 2010 C01, estimated to be 120 to 260 metres in size, safely passed Earth at 3.42 a.m. on Saturday. The second object, 2000 QW7 is estimated to be 290 to 650 metres in size will pass later at 11.54 p.m. on Saturday.
Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are asteroids and comets that orbit the Sun, but their orbits bring them into Earth’s neighborhood – within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.
These objects are relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.6 billion years ago.
Most of the rocky asteroids originally formed in the warmer inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, while comets, composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles, formed in the cold outer solar system.
At the start of 2019, the number of discovered NEOs totaled more than 19,000, and it has since surpassed 20,000. An average of 30 new discoveries are added each week, NASA said. (IANS)