Distance between Earth and moon revealed in stunning snapshot

January 3, 2018, 3:07 p.m.
Captured by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Oct. 2, this composite image shows the Earth and Moon as seen from a distance of about 3 million miles away.
Photo: NASA

If you happened to catch January's first full moon (and largest supermoon of the year) rising earlier this week, you were likely treated to a eye-popping view of our closest celestial neighbor peeking over the horizon. In moments like these, an illusion that still continues to evade full explanation to this day, it appears that the moon is tantalizingly close. As NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured in the photo above, however, the gulf between our world and the lunar surface is startlingly vast.

"This composite image of the Earth and moon is made from data captured by OSIRIS-REx's MapCam instrument on October 2, 2017, when the spacecraft was approximately 3 million miles (5 million kilometers) from Earth, about 13 times the distance between the Earth and Moon," NASA explained in a blog post. "Three images (different color wavelengths) were combined and color-corrected to make the composite, and the Moon was “stretched” (brightened) to make it more easily visible."

At its furthest distance from Earth (known as apogee), the moon is located just over 250,000 miles from Earth's surface. During its closest approach (known as perigee), it comes within 226,000 miles. When this photo was snapped on Oct. 2, the moon was just about 227,000 miles away.

This incredible snapshot also reminds us of one our favorite moon/Earth facts:

Hard to believe, but it's true! You really could fit all of the planets in our solar system between Earth and the Moon. Hard to believe, but it's true! You really could fit all of the planets in our solar system between Earth and the moon. (Photo: CapnTrip/Reddit)

That's right, while not possible at perigee, you could certainly fit all of our solar system's planets in the average distance between the Earth and moon (238,555 miles) and still have room over to accommodate Pluto. Incredible, right?

OSIRIS-REx — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer — is presently nearly 30 million miles from Earth and enroute to map and return samples from asteroid Bennu. The 1,614-foot rock, rich in carbon and other minerals, has a 1-in-2,700 chance of striking the Earth in the late 22nd century. After arriving in December 2018, OSIRIS-REx will land on Bennu, retrieve samples, and then prepare for a return trip back to Earth. If all goes according to plan, scientists will be able to study sample of Bennu sometime in 2023.

"I'm really keen on getting the sample back, having it be pristine and getting to really understand fundamentals of our solar system," astrophysicist Christina Richey told NPR.

You can learn more about this groundbreaking mission in the NASA video below.

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