At first glance, this picture may not look like much. However, you need to take a good look at the large white dot in the center. That’s us. In September of 2016, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a spacecraft called OSIRIS-REx. The name stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Its purpose is to study asteroids. Specifically, it was launched to study an asteroid named 101955 Bennu, to take a sample from it, and return that sample to Earth. Scientists hope that studying that asteroid sample will help us learn more about the formation of our solar system. The project will cost about one billion dollars.
On January 17, 2018, OSIRIS-REx turned its NavCam 1 camera toward Earth and snapped this picture. The spacecraft was almost 40 million miles (63.6 million km) from Earth and traveling away at 19,000 miles per hour (8.5 km per second). The largest and brightest spot in the picture is Earth. The smaller dot close to it is our Moon. The cluster of stars in the upper left is the Pleiades. In the upper right is Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries. Surrounding the Earth and Moon are five stars that are the head of the whale in the constellation Cetus.
The spacecraft is expected to reach Bennu this summer and will orbit the asteroid until July of 2020 when it will land and gather a sample. In September of 2023 is it scheduled to deliver that sample to the scientists on Earth. The purpose is to learn more about this near-Earth asteroid. The hope is that will help us to learn more about asteroids in general and what we might do to prevent one from slamming into our planet. There is also hope for mining useful minerals from asteroids and getting a better idea of the history of Earth. The whole list of scientific objectives for this space probe is contained in that long name for which we use the acronym OSIRIS-REx.
Forgetting about the cost and ambitious objectives, we enjoy looking at this view of Earth from far, far away. It reminds us of what a big solar system and universe we live in and how amazing is the God who designed it all. It also reminds us of the challenge God gave to Job about the Pleiades in Job 38:31-33.
–Roland Earnst © 2018