Two years after its launch from Florida, a NASA spacecraft is approaching an old asteroid, Bennu, to get a sample of space dust that can provide clues about early life in the solar system.
The probe, OSIRIS-REX, even got its first faded image of the cosmic body, which is about the size of a small mountain, about 500 meters in diameter.
The spacecraft is designed to move around Bennu, about 1.5 or 2 km from the surface, to give the earth a sample in 2023.
The first images of Bennu were taken on 17 August at a distance of 2.3 million kilometers from the 800 million dollar spacecraft.
"This is the closest to Bennu," said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REX at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "It is important because we are now in the vicinity of the asteroid."
Bennu was chosen from about 500,000 asteroids in the solar system because it rotates around the sun in the vicinity of the earth's path, is suitable for scientific study and is one of the oldest asteroids known to NASA.
Astronomers say there is a chance between 2,700 of a collision with Earth in 2135.
It is also a carbon-rich asteroid, the kind of cosmic body that has provided the earth with materials that have supported life for billions of years.
The OSIRIS-REx mission is not the first to visit an asteroid and tries to collect a sample. Japan did this earlier and Europe could land on a comet.
But it is the first return mission of asteroids to NASA, and the goal is to bring the largest sample of history to Earth, on the order of 60 grams.
American men who walked the moon during the Apollo era in the sixties and seventies gathered and brought 382 kg moonstone to earth.
In December, the spacecraft begins with a detailed study of the surface of asteroids, which NASA has defined as "arrival" on the asteroid.
The job insertion is scheduled for December 31st. However, the sample can only be taken in July 2020.