NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft inched closer still to an asteroid called Bennu, breaking the record it set previously — but the real reward is the stunning photographs the probe has captured since the maneuver.
The spacecraft first slipped into orbit around Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, on Dec. 31. At the time, the probe became the vehicle orbiting the smallest object to date. (Smaller objects are trickier to safely orbit.)
But that was only the beginning for the daredevil spacecraft, which on June 13 maneuvered itself into a new orbit just 0.4 miles (less than 700 meters) above the asteroid's surface. That successful approach let OSIRIS-REx break its own record for closest orbit of an object.
And, of course, the result is stunning images, in which scientists can make out details as small as 1.6 feet (0.5 m) when conditions are best, according to a NASA statement.
But the spacecraft's human handlers are splitting their time between processing photographs from the new orbit and going through the images OSIRIS-REx had already sent home.
"Didn't think Bennu's boulders could surprise me at this point in the game," a mission team member posted from the spacecraft's official Twitter account of an image taken on April 12. "But look at this weirdo. Just stickin' up like nbd [no big deal]."
- Hello, Bennu! NASA Asteroid-Sampling Probe Reaches Its Target Space Rock
- As the Asteroid Turns: NASA Probe Snaps Video of Spinning Bennu
- Zoom! Asteroid Bennu Slips Past in OSIRIS-REx Flyby View
Get the Space.com Newsletter
Breaking space news, the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!
Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.