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 Exploring the mysteries of supercooled water
01.03.2017 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Optical generation of ultrasound via photoacoustic effect
01.03.2017 | American Institute of Physics

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: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

Im Focus: Safe glide at total engine failure with ELA-inside

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded after a glide flight with an Airbus A320 in ditching on the Hudson River. All 155 people on board were saved.

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded...

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A better way to measure the stiffness of cancer cells

01.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Exploring the mysteries of supercooled water

01.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Research team of the HAW Hamburg reanimated ancestral microbe from the depth of the earth

01.03.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>