An image of the Earth and the Moon surrounded by darkness

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Stunning image of the Earth from three million miles away captured by OSIRIS-REx

This picture of the Earth and the Moon was captured by a NASA spacecraft on a mission to learn more about the origins of the solar system.

The OSIRIS-REx craft left Earth in September 2016 to travel towards Bennu, an asteroid that appears to be rich in carbon and water, and could tell us more about how Earth acquired the building blocks for life. Hopefully, the craft will be able to orbit the asteroid, grab a sample of rock, and return back to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx is due to make contact with Bennu in August 2018 and return to Earth in 2023. But on its way, it is already sending back data to NASA.

The image above is made from three photos combined. They were colour-corrected to make the composite, and the Moon was brightened to make it more visible.

The pictures were taken when the craft was about three million miles away from Earth. At that range, both planetary bodies could be captured in the same frame.

It is a unique view of the Earth surrounded by the vast darkness of space.

What is OSIRIS-REx doing?

OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security - Regolith Explorer. The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

Museum expertise

Prof Sara Russell is a Museum planetary scientist and is part of the OSIRIS-REx team.

She was invited to join thanks to her expert knowledge of meteorites, fragments of asteroids that end up on Earth. 

The Museum houses meteorites that appear to be of similar composition to Bennu. Sara and her colleagues are working with other members of the OSIRIS-REx team to provide a best estimate of what to expect when visiting and sampling the asteroid. 

She says, 'It is so exciting to see these images. They were taken around a year after the launch, when the spacecraft came back close to Earth to perform a slingshot that will send it out towards the orbit of Bennu. 

'The photos show that the instruments on board are working beautifully and give us a glimpse of the wonderful data we will receive when it reaches its asteroid target.'