NASA spacecraft snaps incredible picture of Earth

Nearly a month after it reached its destination, circling the asteroid Bennu, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has snapped an incredible image of the Earth.

The image was snapped days before OSIRIS-REx went into orbit around Bennu on New Year’s Eve. The tiny asteroid — barely one-third of a mile across — appears as a big bright blob in the long-exposure photo released last week.

Nearly 70 million miles away, Earth appears as a white dot, with the moon an even smaller dot but still clearly visible.

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OSIRIS-REx is the first spacecraft to orbit such a small celestial body, and from such a close distance — about a mile out. Next year, Osiris-Rex will attempt to gather some samples from the carbon-rich asteroid, for return to Earth in 2023.

Launched from Florida in 2016, OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reached Bennu on Dec. 3 after traveling more than 1 billion miles through space. The spacecraft will spend almost a year surveying the space rock from orbit.

A week after it landed, OSIRIS-REx identified water locked inside the asteroid’s clay, NASA announced. The spacecraft’s two spectrometers revealed the presence of “hydroxyls,” which are molecules containing oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together.

“While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid,” NASA said in the statement.

The asteroid may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to the space agency.

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The probe is scheduled to briefly touch the asteroid with a robotic arm in July 2020 and retrieve a sample that will be returned to Earth in September 2023.

The Associated Press and Fox News' James Rogers contributed to this report. 

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia