NASA Photo Shows the Vast Distance Between the Earth and Moon
The moon is approximately 238,855 miles away from the Earth, on average (these things can fluctuate slightly). This seems like a big number, but it's hard to put it into context.
This distance is about thirty times the circumference of the Earth, but as none of us have ever managed to walk around the entire planet in a straight line, this is equally hard to get our brains to comprehend. Exactly how far is 238,855 miles in context? How far away is the moon?
Thankfully, NASA is here to answer that question with a brand new photo from the OSIRIS-REx probe. If you'd like a visual aid, the moon is approximately this far away from the Earth:
The Earth, Moon & beyond! @OSIRISREx, our mission that is currently on its way to map & return samples from asteroid Bennu, captured the data that makes up this composite image of our home planet & Moon: https://t.co/QZOmwVTIRe pic.twitter.com/HmwLJk12Gb— NASA (@NASA) January 2, 2018
That's not really something that's easy to put into words, so it's nice to have the clear photograph to help visualize the distance.
OSIRIS-REx, a probe whose name is fairly obviously a backronym, has a full name of "Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer". As the photo shows, the probe is midway through a long journey that's taken it very far from home, in order to explore the distant Bennu Asteroid, which it will reach in December, assuming all goes well.
Bennu (formally known as 1999 RQ36) is moving in orbit around the sun, which brings it relatively close to the Earth, existing at an approximate distance of 121 million miles away on a good day. So it's still a long ways off, but not so far away that it's impossible for a probe to get there.
Because of humanity's long-held fear of a dinosaur-esque destruction via meteor, some doomsayers have been spreading rumors that Bennu might ultimately crash into the Earth, but this isn't a genuine concern to anyone who understands the asteroid's orbit. While the rock might be close, it's not going to come crashing down on our world anytime soon.
The plan is for OSIRIS-REx to head over to Bennu, collect a rock sample from the asteroid, and then return home, touching back down on Earth in 2023. This is a fairly simple mission, and one which shouldn't cause too much of a headache for the folks at NASA, which is likely why OSIRIS-REx has been filled with the names of Earthlings who want to be a part of this historic mission.
In the meantime, we're free to sit back and stare at the gorgeous majesty of the cosmos, as we ponder just how far away the moon really is from the Earth. Our biggest satellite certainly looks a lot smaller in this image than it appears to us in the night's sky, but it's worth remembering that our moon is the biggest in the solar system, relative to the size of the planet it orbits.
Here's hoping that the OSIRIS-REx trip to Bennu goes smoothly, and that the probe manages to make it safely back to us once its mission is complete. As this photo shows, the probe has a long way to travel.