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Asteroid probe sees a diamond in the sky

Two years after its launch, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is closing in on a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu and sending back pictures that provide one gem of a 360-degree view.

On Nov. 2, OSIRIS-REx captured imagery over the course of a four-hour, 11-minute period to take in a full rotation of the diamond-shaped space rock from a distance of about 122 miles.

The view is whetting astronomers’ appetite for even closer looks at Bennu, which is currently about 80 million miles from Earth. Over the next few weeks, OSIRIS-REx will carefully survey the quarter-mile-wide asteroid’s terrain as it edges closer. During December, it’ll execute three flybys, coming within just a few miles of the surface. And early next year, it’ll settle into a close-in orbit and conduct a months-long survey.

All that’s just a buildup for the main event: the probe’s descent to the surface in mid-2020 for the collection of samples that will be packed up for delivery to Earth in 2023.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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