NASA released this new color composite image of Earth from space today (September 26, 2017). The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft – launched a year ago and bound for an encounter with asteroid Bennu in 2018 – acquired the images during a close flyby of our planet on September 22. It was just hours after the spacecraft completed its Earth gravity assist – designed to increase its speed and set on a path toward the asteroid – sweeping as near to Earth as approximately 106,000 miles (170,000 km). The spacecraft used its MapCam camera, part of the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) operated by the University of Arizona.
The image spans the Pacific Ocean from Australia at the lower left, to Baja California and the southwestern United States in the upper right.
The dark vertical streaks at the top of the image are caused by short exposure times (less than three milliseconds), NASA said, adding:
Short exposure times are required for imaging an object as bright as Earth, but are not anticipated for an object as dark as the asteroid Bennu, which the camera was designed to image.
The OSIRIS-REx craft has the ultimate goal of obtaining a sample from asteroid Bennu and returning it to Earth in 2023.
— NASA's OSIRIS-REx (@OSIRISREx) September 25, 2017
Bottom line: Earth portrait from OSIRIS-REx asteroid craft, made from images acquired during the Earth gravity assist on September 22, 2017.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.