NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, en route to asteroid Bennu to retrieve samples and return them to scientists, slingshot past Earth on Friday, using gravity to change its trajectory for a rendezvous with its target late next year.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx flew approximately 11,000 miles above Antarctica.
The spacecraft used the planet’s gravity to help it pick up speed on its way to explore the asteroid.
Its velocity change was 8,451 miles per hour as a result of the flyby, according to Nasa.
Nasa launched OSIRIS-REx from Florida in 2016 to chase down Bennu, a dark asteroid that could one day threaten Earth.
The probe is scheduled to arrive at Bennu in August 2018 and will survey the asteroid for several months.
Then, in July 2020, it is expected to use its robot arm to blast the asteroid with nitrogen, causing it to kick up rocks and dust.
It will try to snag a sample of the dust to bring back to Earth as it returns in 2023.
Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator, last month said: “The Earth gravity assist is a clever way to move the spacecraft onto Bennu’s orbital plane using Earth’s own gravity instead of expending fuel.”
While OSIRIS-REx was making its flyby, mission scientists at the University of Arizona tested its instruments and used the spacecraft’s camera to take pictures of the Earth and moon.
Nasa also encouraged amateur astronomers with specialised gear to photograph OSIRIS-REx as it passed by and to share their photos with the space agency.
Mr Lauretta said: ”The opportunity to capture images of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft as it approaches Earth provides a unique challenge for observers to hone their skills during this historic flyby.”
It comes as conspiracy theorist claim the colossal Planet X, also known as Nibiru, will approach Earth from beyond the solar system and trigger the end times.
Theorists, who have spent their lives decoding hidden biblical prophecies and secrets, believe that the world could come to an end this Saturday, September 23.
Doom mongers are expecting the end times to start this weekend and have claimed that several cosmic signs will appear in the sky to mark the start of the Rapture.
However, NASA has vehemently denied Nibiru’s existence.
NASA has said: “The planet in question, Nibiru, doesn’t exist, so there will be no collision.
“The story of Nibiru has been around for years (as has the ‘days of darkness’ tale) and is periodically recycled into new apocalyptic fables.”