Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Astronomers Plan Last Look at Asteroid Before OSIRIS-REx Launch

14.09.2011
Every six years, asteroid 1999 RQ 36 nears the Earth - by cosmic standards - and researchers are launching a global observation campaign to learn as much as possible in preparation for the OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S.-led mission to bring back a sample of pristine asteroid material.

Astronomers working on the U.S.' first asteroid-sample return mission – the NASA mission named OSIRIS-REx – have begun a months-long observing campaign that is the last chance to study their target asteroid from Earth before the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launches in 2016.

OSIRIS-REx is a quest to bring back to Earth a good-sized sample of an asteroid unaltered since solar system formation – a sample that very well could contain molecules that seeded life.

Discovered in 1999, the OSIRIS-REx target asteroid, designated 1999 RQ36, nears Earth once every six years. During the 2011 closest approach in early September, it will be 10.9 million miles (17.5 million kilometers) away. In 1999, closest approach was 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers).

"Six years sets the whole cadence for our mission," said Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, deputy principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission.

"The next chance for ground-based telescopes to see this asteroid will be in 2017, when it again nears Earth. Our spacecraft performs a gravity-assist at this time, giving it the kick it needs to rendezvous with the asteroid in 2019-20. The next chance for ground-based astronomy is 2023, the year the spacecraft returns a sample of the asteroid to Earth."

1999 RQ36 last attracted astronomers' attention in 2005, when it passed 3.1 million miles (5 million kilometers) from Earth and appeared 30 times brighter than it does this year.

In 2005, Carl Hergenrother of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory was searching with the 61-inch Kuiper telescope on Mt. Bigelow north of Tucson for exciting targets for the proposed asteroid sample-return mission. He observed 1999 RQ36.

"Looking at my data, I saw this was a B-type asteroid, which is carbonaceous and related to unusual outer main-belt asteroids that act like comets by outgassing volatiles," Hergenrother, who heads the OSIRIS-REx asteroid astronomy working group, said.

After a quick search of the scientific literature, which turned up nothing on the object, he did a Google search. Jackpot.

"Astronomers had been observing this asteroid, just not formally publishing about it," Hergenrother said. "Their results were sitting on their personal Web pages. They had radar images of it, visible and near-infrared observations, confirmed it was a B-type (bluish) asteroid, got a pretty good light curve and a rotation period, although the rotation period was wrong."

Michael Drake of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, urged Josh Emery, one of Drake's former students, now of the University of Tennessee and a co-investigator on OSIRIS-REx, to observe 1999 RQ36 with the Spitzer Space Telescope. Emery won the telescope time, providing first observations of the asteroid at thermal infrared wavelengths.

"Coming out of 2006-07, 1999 RQ36 was probably the best-studied near-Earth asteroid out there that hadn't already been visited by a spacecraft," Hergenrother said. "We lucked out in that not only is this an asteroid that's relatively easy to get to, it is extremely interesting, exactly the kind of object that we want for this mission."

The international team of astronomers collaborating in the fall 2011-spring 2012 observing campaign for 1999 RQ36 have time or are applying for time on a network of telescopes operating in Arizona, the Canary Islands, Chile, Puerto Rico and space.

The new observations will not only influence mission planning and development, but will directly address two key OSIRIS-REx mission goals, Lauretta said.

One goal is to check results from ground-based observations against results from OSIRIS-REx spacecraft observations that will be made in 2019-20 as the spacecraft circles the asteroid for about 500 days.

Another goal is to measure a slight force called the "Yarkovsky effect" to better understand the likelihood that potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids, such as 1999 RQ36, will strike our planet, and when.

LINK:

The University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory: http://www.lpl.arizona.edu

CONTACTS:

Dante S. Lauretta
UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
520-626-1138
lauretta@lpl.arizona.edu
Carl W. Hergenrother
UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
520-237-6432
chergen@lpl.arizona.edu
Daniel Stolte
University Communications
The University of Arizona
520-626-4402
stolte@email.arizona.edu

Daniel Stolte | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://www.lpl.arizona.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Only an atom thick: Physicists succeed in measuring mechanical properties of 2D monolayer materials
17.01.2018 | Universität des Saarlandes

nachricht Black hole spin cranks-up radio volume
15.01.2018 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

Im Focus: A thermometer for the oceans

Measurement of noble gases in Antarctic ice cores

The oceans are the largest global heat reservoir. As a result of man-made global warming, the temperature in the global climate system increases; around 90% of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Polymers Based on Boron?

18.01.2018 | Life Sciences

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

18.01.2018 | Life Sciences

World’s oldest known oxygen oasis discovered

18.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>