Friday, September 8, 2017

LBT snags first glimpse of OSIRIS-REx since launch

OSIRIS-REx is  a NASA spacecraft traveling to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu to bring a small sample back to Earth for study. The mission launched Sept. 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As planned, the spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.

The spacecraft is currently approaching Earth for its gravity assist maneuver, which will change its trajectory and set it on course to rendez-vous Bennu. Its closest approach to Earth is scheduled for 12:52 p.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 22.

The Large Binocular Telescope Observatory (LBTO) used the LBCs (Large Binocular Cameras), a pair of wide-field cameras at the prime focus of each of its two 8.4m mirrors, to image the field around the predicted position of the spacecraft on the night of September 1.

The animation above (three images - LBCB - 300s exp. time - V filter) centered on OSIRIS-REx (red square).  2017 September 2 at around 11:00 UTC. The spacecraft was 11-million kilometers away from Earth at the time of the observation. The spacecraft was  28% illuminated with a magnitude V~25.

On that night, LBTO was back on sky after a long period of shutdown which started on June 15 due to the Frye fire, followed by its seasonal monsoon shutdown (Jul 10 - Aug 31). OSIRIS-REx was an excellent target of opportunity at the beginning of a 12-night period dedicated to a full restart of the facility. A good way to come back to observing after 2.5 months of closed dome!

Thanks go to V. Reddy and A. Conrad for proposing the target, B. Rothberg, O. Kuhn, J. Hill and S. Allanson for observing, C. Veillet and C. Hergenrother for the data reduction, and the whole LBTO staff for a great shutdown work!

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