Before you head off into the great beyond, you first have to get out the door. Astronauts on the International Space Station have the benefit of perspective as they orbit Earth—a view so mind-blowingly awesome that it has been coined “ the Overview Effect .” We mere nonastronauts can imagine what it would be like seeing the curvature of our home planet while surrounded by the blackness of space, and a few sci-fi films make the effort, but we’ll never really know how it feels until we get there. (Keep working on that, Bezos and Musk.) The European Space Agency’s Alexander Gerst has just sent back a photo that shows not only how small in terms of scale we are, but how delicate our whole ecosystem is on this blue dot.
OK, now off we go with NASA’s spacecraft OSIRIS-REx on its mission to collect a sample of an asteroid called Bennu. Bennu is not remarkably large; at roughly 1,600 feet across, it’s one of the smallest asteroids out there. But: Bennu was targeted because the rare B-type asteroid is a time capsule of the early solar system. It might even contain amino acids and organic molecules, the building blocks for our DNA. OSIRIS-REx will soon enter orbit around the asteroid, where it will spend nearly a year carefully mapping its surface before descending to latch on and collect a sample to bring back to Earth. Scientists are eager to learn more about how the stuff at the foundation of our biology could be scattered around the solar system.
Black holes, nebulae, supernovae, everything: Peruse WIRED’s full cosmic collection of space photos here.
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