Scientists with the University of Arizona-led asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx have measured the orbit of their destination asteroid, 1999 RQ36, with such accuracy they were able to directly determine the drift resulting from a subtle but important force called the Yarkovsky effect – the slight push created when the asteroid absorbs sunlight and re-emits that energy as heat.
The new orbit for the half-kilometer (one-third mile) diameter 1999 RQ36 is the most precise asteroid orbit ever obtained, OSIRIS-REx team member Steven Chesley of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. He presented the findings May 19 at the Asteroids, Comets and Meteors 2012 meeting in Niigata, Japan.
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Under Drake’s leadership, the UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory grew from a small group of geologists and astronomers into an international powerhouse of research into the solar system.
Michael J. Drake, Regents’ Professor, director of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and head of the department of planetary sciences, died Wednesday at The University of Arizona Medical Center-University Campus in Tucson, Ariz. He was 65.
Drake, who joined the UA planetary sciences faculty in 1973 and headed LPL and the planetary sciences department since 1994, was the principal investigator of the most ambitious UA project to date, OSIRIS-REx, an $800 million mission designed to retrieve a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth. OSIRIS-REx is due to launch in 2016. It is the largest grant or contract the UA has ever received.
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Every six years, asteroid 1999 RQ36 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.
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