Top Photo: Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the far side of the moon
Unmanned spacecraft sent to explore some very special places in our solar system recently beamed back some fantastic photos!
The first was taken in early December by OSIRIS-REx, a sample return mission by NASA being run by the University of Arizona. The spacecraft flew more than two years, covering more than a billion miles to catch up with an ancient asteroid named Bennu. As it neared, cameras built by the UofA snapped a series of images, carefully pieced together by the imaging team back on Earth to create an awesome GIF of the spinning asteroid!
On New Year’s Eve, OSIRIS-REx MANEUVERED perfectly to orbit about a mile away from the asteroid, which could be older than our solar system. It is the smallest object in space ever to be orbited by a spacecraft!
On New Years, the New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006, had made it to the Kuiper Belt near the edge of the solar system to do a flyby of Ultima Thule, a minor planet which may be the result of a collision that stuck Ultima and Thule together. At more than 4 billion miles from Earth, it’s the farthest object in our solar system ever visited. New Horizons is headed even deeper into the Kuiper Belt.
Then on Jan. 2, China’s National Space Administration landed its Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the far side of the moon (the side we don’t ever see from Earth), deploying its rover Yutu 2 to cruise the bottom of the VonKarman crater.