Nasa shares a stunning new photo of Earth taken by its asteroid probe

Nasa's Osiris-Rex spacecraft, on its way to the asteroid Bennu, flew past the Earth and took a picture from 170,000km away.

A colour composite image of Earth taken by the MapCam camera on Nasa's Osiris-Rex spacecraftNASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona

Nasa's asteroid probe Osiris-Rex just captured a stunning new photo of the Earth from a distance of around 170,000km (106,000 miles). The spacecraft made a brief flyby of our planet on 22 September, on its way to asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft used Earth's gravity as a slingshot to boost its journey to Bennu, where it is expected to make history by sending significant samples of the asteroid back to Earth.

The asteroid probe's slingshot manoeuvre increased the spacecraft's velocity by around 8,000 miles per hour and adjusted the tilt of its orbit around the Sun to match Bennu's orbit. Bennu's orbital period is comparatively longer than the Earth, at 436.63 days.

Osiris-Rex, which was launched in September 2016, captured a breathtaking image of the Pacific Ocean, with hints of Australia and Baja California also featured. The familiar shape of Australia is visible in the lower left side of the image and the Mexican state of Baja California can be spotted at the top right.

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The image was captured by Osiris-Rex's MapCam, which is part of the spacecraft's camera suite and is operated by the University of Arizona. The top part of the image features a few dark vertical lines, caused by short exposure times. Since the asteroid probe's camera was designed to photograph Bennu, which is a lot darker than Earth, the spacecraft's camera had to compensate for Earth's brightness by taking short exposure images. However, the spacecraft is expected to take much clearer images of Bennu.

The asteroid probe is expected to reach asteroid Bennu in August 2018, where it will then spend around two and a half years collecting samples and data to return to Earth.

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