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  • richardmitnick 1:58 pm on February 29, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Students Catch Unexpected Glimpse of Newly Discovered Black Hole", , , , , NASA OSIRIS-REx,   

    From University of Arizona and NASA OSIRIS-Rex: “NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Students Catch Unexpected Glimpse of Newly Discovered Black Hole” 

    From University of Arizona

    and


    NASA OSIRIS-Rex

    Feb. 28, 2020
    Brittany Enos
    University of Arizona

    University students and researchers working on a NASA mission orbiting a near-Earth asteroid have made an unexpected detection of a phenomenon 30 thousand light years away. Last fall, the student-built Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) onboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft detected a newly flaring black hole in the constellation Columba while making observations off the limb of asteroid Bennu.

    2
    Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS)
    MIT graduate students Pronoy Biswas (left) and Mark Chodas prepare the Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) instrument for flight. REXIS can image X-ray emission from Bennu in order to provide an elemental abundance map of the asteroid’s surface. Credits: William Litant/MIT.

    3
    This image shows the X-ray outburst from the black hole MAXI J0637-043, detected by the REXIS instrument on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The image was constructed using data collected by the X-ray spectrometer while REXIS was making observations of the space around asteroid Bennu on Nov. 11, 2019. The outburst is visible in the center of the image, and the image is overlaid with the limb of Bennu (lower right) to illustrate REXIS’s field of view. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/MIT/Harvard.

    REXIS, a shoebox-sized student instrument, was designed to measure the X-rays that Bennu emits in response to incoming solar radiation. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, like visible light, but with much higher energy. REXIS is a collaborative experiment led by students and researchers at MIT and Harvard, who proposed, built, and operate the instrument.

    4
    This visualization simulates an X-ray outburst from the black hole MAXI J0637-043, detected by the REXIS instrument on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, as it moves through REXIS’s line of sight. At first, the outburst is visibly intense, but it gradually fades as it subsides. The animation was constructed using data collected by the X-ray spectrometer while REXIS was making observations of the space around asteroid Bennu on Nov. 11, 2019. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/MIT/Harvard.

    On Nov. 11, 2019, while the REXIS instrument was performing detailed science observations of Bennu, it captured X-rays radiating from a point off the asteroid’s edge. “Our initial checks showed no previously cataloged object in that position in space,” said Branden Allen, a Harvard research scientist and student supervisor who first spotted the source in the REXIS data.

    The glowing object turned out to be a newly flaring black hole X-ray binary – discovered just a week earlier by Japan’s MAXI telescope – designated MAXI J0637-430.

    NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope also identified the X-ray blast a few days later. Both MAXI and NICER operate aboard NASA’s International Space Station and detected the X-ray event from low Earth orbit. REXIS, on the other hand, detected the same activity millions of miles from Earth while orbiting Bennu, the first such outburst ever detected from interplanetary space.

    “Detecting this X-ray burst is a proud moment for the REXIS team. It means our instrument is performing as expected and to the level required of NASA science instruments,” said Madeline Lambert, an MIT graduate student who designed the instrument’s command sequences that serendipitously revealed the black hole.

    X-ray blasts, like the one emitted from the newly discovered black hole, can only be observed from space since Earth’s protective atmosphere shields our planet from X-rays. These X-ray emissions occur when a black hole pulls in matter from a normal star that is in orbit around it. As the matter spirals onto a spinning disk surrounding the black hole, an enormous amount of energy (primarily in the form of X-rays) is released in the process.

    “We set out to train students how to build and operate space instruments,” said MIT professor Richard Binzel, instrument scientist for the REXIS student experiment. “It turns out, the greatest lesson is to always be open to discovering the unexpected.”

    The main purpose of the REXIS instrument is to prepare the next generation of scientists, engineers, and project managers in the development and operations of spaceflight hardware. Nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate students have worked on the REXIS team since the mission’s inception.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

    and

    https://www.asteroidmission.org

    See the full article here .


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    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    The OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is a NASA asteroid study and sample-return mission. The mission’s main goal is to obtain a sample of at least 60 grams (2.1 oz) from 101955 Bennu, a carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid, and return the sample to Earth for a detailed analysis. The material returned is expected to enable scientists to learn more about the formation and evolution of the Solar System, its initial stages of planet formation, and the source of organic compounds that led to the formation of life on Earth. If successful, OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. spacecraft to return samples from an asteroid. The Lidar instrument used aboard the OSIRIS-REx was built by Lockheed Martin, in conjunction with the Canadian Space Agency.
    OSIRIS-REx was launched on 8 September 2016, flew past Earth on 22 September 2017, and reached the proximity of Bennu on 3 December 2018, where it began analyzing its surface for a target sample area over the next several months. It is expected to return with its sample to Earth on 24 September 2023.
    The cost of the mission is approximately US$800 million not including the Atlas V launch vehicle, which is about US$183.5 million. It is the third planetary science mission selected in the New Frontiers program, after Juno and New Horizons. The principal investigator is Dante Lauretta from the University of Arizona.

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    U Arizona mirror lab-Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium?

    University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, located in the Sonoran desert. An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 6:58 am on December 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "How 2019’s space missions explored distant worlds", Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft, JAXA’s original Hayabusa spacecraft, , NASA OSIRIS-REx, , ,   

    From Science News: “How 2019’s space missions explored distant worlds” 

    From Science News

    12.23.19
    Maria Temming

    Planets, asteroids and Arrokoth were the focus of new discoveries.

    1
    Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft, whose shadow is visible in this image, took this photo of the asteroid Ryugu in February after briefly touching down on the asteroid’s surface to collect a sample. The spacecraft is now heading back to Earth.
    JAXA, Univ. of Tokyo, Kochi Univ., Rikkyo Univ., Nagoya Univ., Chiba Inst. Of Technology, Meiji Univ., Univ. of Aizu, AIST

    JAXA/Hayabusa 2 Credit: JAXA/Akihiro Ikeshita

    From asteroids to exoplanets, spacecraft are leaving no space rock unturned. While agencies in China, India and Israel made headlines with missions to the moon, here are some other places that space probes scouted in 2019.

    Zoom and enhance

    Touring Pluto in 2015 may have been New Horizons’ main event (SN: 12/26/15, p. 16), but flying by what used to be called Ultima Thule was an awesome encore.

    2
    WORLD LIKE NO OTHER Long out of reach, Pluto came into focus in 2015 with the NASA/Mew Horizons mission.
    JHU-APL, NASA, SwRI


    2
    Arrokoth appears as a ruddy deformed snowman in this composite image acquired by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it sped past on January 1, 2019. NASA gave Ultima Thule a new official name, Arrokoth.
    NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute, Roman Tkachenko

    I spy exoplanets

    NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, racked up eight exoplanet finds in its first few months of observation (SN: 2/2/19, p. 12).

    NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

    That initial cache included some weirdos, such as a planet that is about as dense as pure water and a “lava world” known as LHS 3844b that sizzles at about 540° Celsius. TESS has since discovered a new type of exoplanet called an ultrahot Neptune, which appears to be a fluffy gas giant in the process of stripping down to its rocky core (SN: 8/31/19, p. 11).

    3
    Among the exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS, is LHS 3844b (illustrated), a “lava world” slightly bigger than Earth.TESS/NASA and MIT

    Asteroids to go

    The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 is expected to become the second spacecraft ever to bring a bit of asteroid back to Earth, after the original Hayabusa probe returned with a souvenir from the asteroid Itokawa in 2010.

    JAXA’s original Hayabusa spacecraft

    Hayabusa2 touched down on the asteroid Ryugu in February to fetch a sample from the asteroid’s surface (SN Online: 2/22/19). Then, to get a deeper sample, Hayabusa2 fired a copper projectile at Ryugu to punch a crater into the asteroid (SN Online: 4/5/19). The probe then ducked down to snag some rubble excavated from the interior (SN: 8/17/19, p. 14). Scientists won’t know exactly how much of Ryugu was collected until Hayabusa2, which started its journey home on November 13, arrives at Earth in late 2020.

    Another sample-return mission, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, is still orbiting its asteroid.

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    When the spacecraft first arrived at Bennu in December 2018, observations unveiled a rugged surface littered with boulders — bad news for a probe designed to navigate more beachlike terrain (SN: 4/13/19, p. 10).

    3
    This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km). The image was obtained at a 50° phase angle between the spacecraft, asteroid and the Sun, and in it, Bennu spans approximately 1,500 pixels in the camera’s field of view.

    Using OSIRIS-REx’s detailed mapping of Bennu from orbit, NASA selected a site for sample collection in the asteroid’s northern hemisphere (SN Online: 12/12/19). Bits of Bennu, to be returned in 2023, may reveal whether a similar asteroid could have delivered to early Earth a molecular starter pack for life (SN: 1/19/19, p. 20).

    The space probe zipped by this Kuiper Belt object, now called Arrokoth, on New Year’s Day (SN Online: 12/30/18).

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    Scientists were on the edge of their seats as the probe snapped pictures and sent higher- and higher-resolution images over several weeks, revealing the visage of Arrokoth to look like an elongated blob, then a snowman and finally a pair of lumpy pancakes (SN: 3/16/19, p. 15). Uncovering the origins of Arrokoth’s awkward shape may lend insight into the early stages of planet formation (SN: 4/13/19, p. 11).

    Meanwhile, on Mars

    4
    NASA’s Mars InSight mission may have made the first recording of a Marsquake. InSight’s seismometer is covered by the domed shield shown here.JPL-Caltech/NASA

    NASA/Mars InSight Lander

    InSight arrived on the Red Planet in November 2018, and the rookie lander may have already captured the first recording of a Marsquake (SN Online: 4/23/19). Unlike tremors on Earth, underground rumblings on Mars are thought to result from the planet contracting as it cools. Studying such seismic signals could help scientists better understand the structure of Mars’ deep interior.

    While InSight had its ear to the ground, the veteran Curiosity rover was measuring the consistency of a Martian mountain (SN Online: 1/31/19).

    NASA/Mars Curiosity Rover


    As Curiosity scaled Mount Sharp, accelerometer readings indicated surprisingly loose rock beneath the rover’s wheels — suggesting that winds formed the mountain by sweeping sediment into a giant pile.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 11:39 am on December 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A Strange Asteroid Is Shooting Particles Into Space And We Just Got The Best Data Yet", , , , , , NASA OSIRIS-REx,   

    From NASA OSIRIS-Rex via Science Alert: “A Strange Asteroid Is Shooting Particles Into Space And We Just Got The Best Data Yet” 


    From NASA OSIRIS-Rex

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    via

    ScienceAlert

    From Science Alert

    10 DEC 2019
    EVAN GOUGH

    NASA’s spacecraft NASA OSIRIS-REx arrived at asteroid Bennu in December 2018, and just one week later, it discovered something unusual about Bennu: the asteroid was ejecting particles into space.

    The spacecraft’s navigation camera first spotted the particles, but scientists initially thought they were just stars in the background. After closer scrutiny, the OSIRIS-REx team realized they were particles of rock, and were concerned that they might pose a hazard.

    Asteroids that are losing mass are called “active asteroids” and sometimes “main-belt comets.” They sometimes leave transient trails of dust and debris that looks like a comet’s tail.

    When these types of asteroids were first observed, astronomers thought that the trail was made of melting ice, like a comet’s tail. But now we know that there are several mechanisms that can cause an asteroid to be active.

    1
    In telescope images “Main-belt comets” sometimes have tails like comets. (Jewitt et al, 2012)

    Astronomers haven’t found many active asteroids, and most of them are losing so much material that it’s visible in telescopes. Most asteroids are stable, and in fact, Bennu appeared to be an inactive asteroid in Earth-based observations.

    Naturally, scientists working with OSIRIS-REx wanted to know more, and stumbling on one with the spacecraft presented an unplanned opportunity to study one of these asteroids up close.

    “Among Bennu’s many surprises, the particle ejections sparked our curiosity, and we’ve spent the last several months investigating this mystery,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

    “This is a great opportunity to expand our knowledge of how asteroids behave,” he said in a press release.

    There are a variety of causes for active asteroids like Bennu. Sublimating ice, impacts, rotational instability, thermal fractures, and electrostatic repulsion are some of them.

    In a paper published in Science on December 6, Lauretta and other scientists presented the results of their observations of Bennu’s mass loss. The paper is titled “Episodes of particle ejection from the surface of the active asteroid (101955) Bennu.”

    The title of the paper makes it clear that these particle ejections are episodic rather than continuous. The team focused on the three largest episodes of particle ejection on January 6, 19, and February 11.

    The largest event was on January 6 when OSIRIS-REx saw about 200 particles leave Bennu. Overall, the particles travelled at about 3 meters (6 feet) per second and ranged in size from less than one inch up to 4 inches (10 cm).

    Each of the three occurred at different locations on the asteroid’s surface. One occurred on the southern hemisphere and two near the equator. They all occurred at mid-day, and there appears to be nothing remarkable about the locations.

    3
    IMAGE: The blue streaks represent particles ejected from Bennu on January 19th. Where some of the streaks end is where they passed into shadow. Bennu is about 500 meters (1640 feet) in diameter. The brown dot at the top of the image represents OSIRIS-REx, and the elongated brown cone is the spacecraft’s viewing angle.
    (Lauretta et al., Science, 2019)

    After being ejected from Bennu, one of two things happened to the particles: they either orbited for a brief period of several days before falling back to the surface of the asteroid, or they were ejected into space.

    After the team investigated the particle ejection they eliminated some causes and settled on three potential causes: meteoroid impacts, thermal stress fracturing, or release of water vapor.

    Bennu’s neighborhood is kind of a busy place, with plenty of small space rocks whizzing around. One possibility is that these rocks were striking Bennu out of sight of OSIRIS-REx and shaking particles loose, sending them into orbit or off into space.

    Thermal fracturing could also explain the particles. Bennu’s rotational period is 4.3 hours, and the surface temperature of the asteroid varies widely during that time.

    The three major particle ejection events were all in the afternoon, when the temperature rises from cold night-time lows to day-time highs. These temperature swings could cause rock to crack and particles to be ejected.

    Or it could be water release. Bennu contains significant water-bearing clays, and the day-time heating could cause it to expand, creating pressure as it tries to escape. That pressure can build in cracks and gaps in the rock, agitating the rock and busing particles loose and allowing them to escape.

    Of course, the answer may not be one of these. It might be that there are multiple reasons for Bennu’s active surface.

    “It could be that more than one of these possible mechanisms are at play,” said Steve Chesley, an author on the paper and Senior Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

    “For example, thermal fracturing could be chopping the surface material into small pieces, making it far easier for meteoroid impacts to launch pebbles into space.”

    What this means for other asteroids is not yet certain. Bennu contains water, but not all asteroids do. So if water release is causing it, then scientists can’t draw any conclusions about “dry” asteroids.

    But if the particle release is caused by meteoroid impacts and/or thermal fracturing, then it’s possible that this small-scale particle loss is happening on all small asteroids.

    4
    Asteroid Bennu from 5 km (3 miles) away. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

    In the Summer of 2020, OSIRIS-REx will collect a sample from Bennu and return it to Earth by 2023. These particles that were ejected then returned to the asteroid are small enough to be taken during sampling, so it’s possible some will return to Earth.

    It’ll be difficult to ascertain if any of the sample is ejected material, but not impossible. If some of it is, we may learn more about active asteroids and what causes particle ejection from the sample.

    In the meantime, OSIRIS-REx will be at Bennu for a long time yet, studying it with its suite of scientific instruments. We’ll still learn a lot about the asteroid before any sample is collected. Maybe there’ll be more surprises.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    The OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is a NASA asteroid study and sample-return mission. The mission’s main goal is to obtain a sample of at least 60 grams (2.1 oz) from 101955 Bennu, a carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid, and return the sample to Earth for a detailed analysis. The material returned is expected to enable scientists to learn more about the formation and evolution of the Solar System, its initial stages of planet formation, and the source of organic compounds that led to the formation of life on Earth.[7] If successful, OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. spacecraft to return samples from an asteroid. The Lidar instrument used aboard the OSIRIS-REx was built by Lockheed Martin, in conjunction with the Canadian Space Agency.[8][9]
    OSIRIS-REx was launched on 8 September 2016, flew past Earth on 22 September 2017, and reached the proximity of Bennu on 3 December 2018, where it began analyzing its surface for a target sample area over the next several months. It is expected to return with its sample to Earth on 24 September 2023.[11]
    The cost of the mission is approximately US$800 million not including the Atlas V launch vehicle, which is about US$183.5 million. It is the third planetary science mission selected in the New Frontiers program, after Juno and New Horizons. The principal investigator is Dante Lauretta from the University of Arizona.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:12 am on July 12, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA OSIRIS-REx   

    From Discover Magazine: “Japanese Asteroid Mission Touches Down on Ryugu, Collects Sample” 

    DiscoverMag

    July 11, 2019
    Korey Haynes

    1
    Hayabusa2 has successfully collected its second sample from the surface of asteroid Ryugu. (Credit: Illustration by Akihiro Ikeshita (C), JAXA)

    Hayabusa2’s encounters with asteroid Ryugu have been delightfully action-packed. In February, the Japanese spacecraft collected its first sample by swooping close and firing a bullet into the asteroid’s surface to stir up material it then snagged with a horn-shaped collector. Then, in April, it shot a much larger impactor into Ryugu, creating an artificial crater so it could examine the material churned up from beneath the surface. On Thursday, Hayabusa2 returned to the scene of the crime and fired a second bullet, collecting material from its newly made crater.

    Astronomers hadn’t been certain they’d be able to find a safe spot to touch down in the new crater, and spent the last few months scouting the area and analyzing the images Hayabusa2 sent back. The successful collection of this second sample means the mission has accomplished all its major goals, and can head back to Earth later this year on a positive note.

    Hayabusa2 is just one spacecraft currently surveying an asteroid with the goal of bringing back pieces of its rocky partner. A NASA mission called OSIRIS-REx is similarly investigating the asteroid Bennu.

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    Astronomers often find fragments of asteroids in the form of meteorites that fall to Earth, but obtaining samples directly from space gives them a clearer picture of where and how these space rocks formed and how they’ve spent the past few billion years of solar system history.

    The mission team behind Hayabusa2 has had to work hard to get their spacecraft to finish the job it started when it launched back in 2014. Its asteroid, Ryugu, proved more jagged and rocky than mission planners had anticipated. The spacecraft must descend all the way to the surface to collect its samples, and it’s not built to handle rough or uneven terrain. The engineering team found that to guarantee a safe touchdown, they had to dramatically increase the accuracy of their touchdown targeting.

    That took longer than they’d planned, and the craft has a schedule to keep. Its mission timeline has it leaving Ryugu in December so it can bring its samples back to Earth for study. It’s also a race against time, as Ryugu’s surface is about to become too warm for Hayabusa2 to handle, meaning it couldn’t just extend its stay indefinitely.

    But the engineering team persevered, and Hayabusa2 has now successfully completed all its main mission objectives. It still has a few months of work left to do in orbit around Ryugu, taking pictures and measurements from afar, before it can return to Earth with its prized samples.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 1:45 pm on November 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA OSIRIS-REx   

    From Discover Magazine: “OSIRIS-REx Gets its First Close-up Photos of Asteroid Bennu” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    November 2, 2018
    Amber Jorgenson

    1
    OSIRIS-REx images asteroid Bennu from just 200 miles (330 kilometers) away. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

    At long last, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft has delivered an up close and personal view of asteroid Bennu.

    NASA/Osiris -REx

    This composite image was created from eight shots taken by the craft’s PolyCam camera.

    OSIRIS-REx PolyCam Camera

    Transmitting data back to Earth, researchers used a super-resolution algorithm to combine the photos and give us a never-before-seen look at the asteroid’s diamond shape and rocky terrain. The mission has been spent more than two years traveling toward the carbon-rich asteroid, and is now within just 200 miles (330 kilometers) of its target.

    “The first images that capture the entire asteroid are used for an important number of calibrations that are fundamental to correctly interpret the results obtained from higher resolution images using different color filters,” said Juan Luis Rizos García, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and part of OSIRIS-REx’s team, in a media release.

    Once the spacecraft arrives at Bennu in December, it will switch to its color-filter MapCam, which will map the asteroid and document its physical characteristics. The camera will also look for alteration in surface minerals that could have been caused by the presence of liquid water.

    Primitive Science

    OSIRIS-REx’s obligations go far beyond taking pictures, though. The mission, which embarked on its 1.1 billion-mile (1.77 billion km) round-trip journey in September 2016, will also search for orbiting satellites, or mini-moons, study its light spectrum to determine its composition and ultimately collect samples to bring back to Earth. Scheduled for July 2020, the craft will descend to a pre-selected landing site and use its Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) to contact the surface.

    OSIRIS-REx TAGSAM

    In the span of just five seconds, the mission will shoot the surface with nitrogen gas and blast it into pieces small enough to take back to Earth.

    These samples will not only give researchers an untainted look at an asteroid, but they’ll also allow us to study our solar system’s formation and evolution. It’s thought that asteroids have more or less remained the same since they first formed in the early days of our solar system, and that they still house the organic molecules, volatiles and amino acids responsible for creating life on Earth. By probing asteroids, researchers could gain insight into these crucial elements and possibly track how they spread through our ancient solar system.

    And since previous observations showed that Bennu is rich in carbon, a prominent element in our solar system’s earliest asteroids, it makes for a promising, primitive target.

    But that’s not the only reason researchers decided to probe Bennu. Every six years, the asteroid comes within just 186,000 miles (300,000 km) of Earth — landing it on NASA’s list of potentially hazardous asteroids. Although the chances are slim, it’s possible that the 1,640-foot-long (500 meters) structure could impact Earth in the late 22nd century. Such an event would be far from catastrophic, but if you have the opportunity, you might as well eye up your competition.

    OSIRIS-REx’s results will come in only slightly behind those from JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission, which arrived at asteroid Ryugu in June and will probe it until 2020.

    JAXA/Hayabusa 2 Credit: JAXA/Akihiro Ikeshita

    Combined with data from OSIRIS-REx, which will study Bennu until 2021, the time to decode asteroids and the history of our solar system could soon be upon us.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:49 pm on September 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA OSIRIS-REx   

    From Goddard: “Large Binocular Telescope Snags First Glimpse of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Since Launch” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Sept. 8, 2017
    Nancy Neal Jones
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    U Arizona Large Binocular Telescope, Mount Graham, Arizona, USA

    1

    NASA/Osiris -REx

    This set of magnified, cropped images shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft (highlighted in red) as it approaches Earth for its Sept. 22 Earth Gravity Assist. To improve visibility, the images have been inverted so that black and white are reversed. The images were taken Sept. 2, by the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory located on Mount Graham in Arizona. This is the first Earth-based view of the spacecraft since its launch on Sept. 8, 2016.

    OSIRIS-REx, which was approximately 7 million miles (12 million kilometers) away when the images were taken, appears at approximately 25th magnitude.

    The Large Binocular Telescope is a pair of 8.4-meter mirrors mounted side by side on the same mount, that can work together to provide resolution equivalent to a 22.7-meter telescope. The telescope typically conducts imaging of more distant objects but took this opportunity to look for OSIRIS-REx with a pair of wide-field cameras (one per mirror) as the spacecraft approaches Earth for its gravity assist. This encounter will change the spacecraft’s trajectory and set it on course to rendezvous with asteroid Bennu, where it will collect a sample of surface material and return it to Earth for study in 2023. The Large Binocular Telescope Observatory is headquartered on the Tucson campus of the University of Arizona.

    The OSIRIS-REx mission team is collecting other images of the spacecraft taken by observatories and other ground-based telescopes around the world during this period – approximately Sept. 10-23, depending on location and local conditions. Individuals and groups may submit images of the spacecraft via the mission’s website, where instructions to locate the spacecraft in the sky are also available.

    For more information on the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/osirisrex and http://www.asteroidmission.org

    For more information on the Large Binocular Telescope, visit:

    http://www.lbto.org

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 7:16 am on May 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA OSIRIS-REx, , TEM-Hitachi transmission electron microscope, , UA Has the Tools to Analyze Asteroid's Dirt   

    From U Arizona: “UA Has the Tools to Analyze Asteroid’s Dirt” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    May 26, 2017
    Emily Litvack

    1
    In the basement of a building constructed with NASA funds in the early 1960s, scientists already are preparing to study the sample from OSIRIS-REx, a first-of-its-kind mission.

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    NASA OSIRIS REX FEROS

    NASA OSIRIS REX OTES

    NASA OSIRIS-REX OVIRS

    NASA OSIRIS REX OLA

    In the year 2023, priceless property will land somewhere in the Utah desert. And when it does, a team of engineers and scientists will be waiting on the ground. Thousands will watch the landing with eyes glued to smartphones and televisions. Headlines around the world will tell of the journey.

    The property? Between 2 and 70 ounces of asteroid dirt.

    This 4.5-billion-year-old sample, formally known as regolith, will look like a small pile of dusty rubble, gleaned in the five-second moment during which NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft vacuumed the surface of a carbon-rich, near-Earth asteroid called Bennu.

    The sample’s encapsulated landing at the Utah Test and Training Range, about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City, will begin a new phase in its existence: analysis. After being transported to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the dirt will be removed from its capsule and allocated to scientists for study.

    1
    Tom Zega sits at the Hitachi transmission electron microscope, or TEM, in the Kuiper Space Sciences Building. The TEM was funded jointly by the National Science Foundation and NASA. (Photo: Mari Cleven/UA Office of Research, Discovery and Innovation)

    OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. mission to return an asteroid sample to Earth, but for scientists such as Tom Zega, the return is just the beginning. Zega is a sample scientist at the University of Arizona. As a collaborator on the UA-led OSIRIS-REx mission, he will be one of the first scientists to analyze regolith from Bennu.

    One of the main goals of the OSIRIS-REx mission, Zega says, is understanding the earliest history of our solar system and the origins of life. Pristine regolith from an asteroid might be our best shot, untouched and uncontaminated by our atmosphere.

    “Sample return is great because otherwise you’re at the mercy of what falls from the sky,” Zega said. “Sample return is a treasure trove of information. You’re getting samples that are older than Earth. I can literally hold in my hand a piece of the origins of our solar system that predated Earth, predated human beings, predated everything we know.

    “These are atoms that assembled four and a half billion years ago and became the building blocks of our planet.”

    The question, then, is what to do with such a scientifically valuable pile of dirt.

    Building a Lab Fit for Analysis

    Analysis means two things — both of which require large equipment in a stable environment. The first: high-resolution imaging. The second: measuring chemistry. Respectively, those answer the questions “What does it look like?” and “What is it made of?”

    “We’re sort of like forensic scientists,” Zega says. “Nature grew these materials, and we’re analyzing it at a fundamental level to figure out under what conditions.”

    Zega does his work in the 5,000-square-foot basement of the Kuiper Space Sciences Building, constructed at the UA in 1964 with funds from NASA. The basement once was a mirror lab for telescopes and a publications vault. Telescopes got bigger, and so did the lab, which now lives beneath Arizona Stadium. Publications went online. Now the UA’s collection of high-tech electron microscopes — to be used for studying the returned asteroid dirt — lives here.

    Sensitive to stimulus, electron microscopes need a place with minimal vibrations, minimal electromagnetic interference and good acoustics. As it turns out, basements make good places for these microscopes. As of today, the lab is “ready to hit the ground running” when the sample from OSIRIS-REx shows up, according to Zega.

    In fact, the lab is in the process of studying a sample from Hayabusa 1, an asteroid sample return mission by JAXA, the Japanese equivalent of NASA. Like OSIRIS-REx, Hayabusa 2 is now cruising toward its target, which is the asteroid Ryugu.

    Zega opens the two frosted doors of the laboratory, revealing a long, clean, fluorescent-lit corridor.

    At the end of the corridor in a room on the left is where the asteroid sample’s time in the lab will truly begin. After it’s mounted on a glass slide and polished smooth, Zega will place the sample in an electron microprobe.

    “The microprobe gives us the most context, and a lay of the land,” Zega says.

    It allows him to photograph the entire sample in high resolution and map out its chemistry, element by element. Those elements, such as iron and nickel and magnesium, show up as colors on a computer screen.

    “You want to sit down and really process that data,” Zega says. “You might want to play around with the maps and overlay them onto the high-res images that you also created before you decide what the next step is. That can take some time.

    “You really want to take your time here before going on to a more detailed level of analysis.”

    Then, all the way at the other end of the corridor, near the doorway, there are two scanning electron microscopes. Like the microprobe, they also image and chemically map the sample, but at an even more detailed level. Here, Zega can look at the dirt in micrometers and nanometers — a billionth of a meter. A single sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.

    In the room next door, a focused-ion-beam scanning-electron microscope can look at the sample in even greater detail. It also can drill a hole in a piece of dust from the asteroid by shooting gallium ions at it, like tiny bullets.

    Atoms With Stories to Tell

    “Every atom has something to tell us,” says Zega, walking toward the final destination for the asteroid sample: the transmission electron microscope, or TEM. It’s a towering box of off-white and blue, about 12 feet tall. There’s an innate humor in its size, because a TEM is the only machine in the world that can see something as tiny as an individual atom.

    The TEM, purchased from Hitachi High Technologies in 2016, was shipped by boat from Japan months ago. A team of engineers from the company’s headquarters outside of Tokyo have been here since November, installing and calibrating the microscope. They are expected to head home in June.

    “Looking at microstructures is useful for figuring out origins,” Zega explains.

    Which atoms of an element are next to, or layered on top of, which other atoms is critically important when you want to determine how something formed.

    In the best-case scenario, analyzing the asteroid dirt means “we rewrite the textbooks on our understanding of the origins of our solar system,” Zega says. “I think that’s the neatest thing about a mission like this. It can be full of surprises.

    “Scientist or not, we all look to the stars and ask ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’ We wonder how it all came to be,” he says. “The work that we do here at the University of Arizona contributes to answering those questions.”

    TEM and FIB analyses are carried out at the University of Arizona Kuiper Core Imaging and Characterization Facility supported in part by NSF Grant 1531243 and NASA Grants NNX15AJ22G and NNX12AL47G.

    See the full article here .

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    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:42 am on March 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA OSIRIS-REx   

    From Goddard: “OSIRIS-REx asteroid search tests instruments, science team” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    March 24, 2017
    Erin Morton
    morton@orex.lpl.arizona.edu
    University of Arizona, Tucson

    Nancy Neal Jones
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    1
    The path of the Main Belt asteroid 12 Victoria, as imaged by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Feb. 11, 2017, during the mission’s Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search. This animation is made of a series of five images taken by the spacecraft’s MapCam camera that were then cropped and centered on Victoria. The images were taken about 51 minutes apart and each was exposed for 10 seconds. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona


    OSIRIS-REx spacecraft

    During an almost two-week search, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission team activated the spacecraft’s MapCam imager and scanned part of the surrounding space for elusive Earth-Trojan asteroids — objects that scientists believe may exist in one of the stable regions that co-orbits the sun with Earth. Although no Earth-Trojans were discovered, the spacecraft’s camera operated flawlessly and demonstrated that it could image objects two magnitudes dimmer than originally expected.

    The spacecraft, currently on its outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu, flew through the center of Earth’s fourth Lagrangian area — a stable region 60 degrees in front of Earth in its orbit where scientists believe asteroids may be trapped, such as asteroid 2010 TK7 discovered by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite in 2010. Though no new asteroids were discovered in the region that was scanned, the spacecraft’s cameras MapCam and PolyCam successfully acquired and imaged Jupiter and several of its moons, as well as Main Belt asteroids.

    “The Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search was a significant success for the OSIRIS-REx mission,” said OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “In this first practical exercise of the mission’s science operations, the mission team learned so much about this spacecraft’s capabilities and flight operations that we are now ahead of the game for when we get to Bennu.”

    The Earth Trojan survey was designed primarily as an exercise for the mission team to rehearse the hazard search the spacecraft will perform as it approaches its target asteroid Bennu. This search will allow the mission team to avoid any natural satellites that may exist around the asteroid as the spacecraft prepares to collect a sample to return to Earth in 2023 for scientific study.

    The spacecraft’s MapCam imager, in particular, performed much better than expected during the exercise. Based on the camera’s design specifications, the team anticipated detecting four Main Belt asteroids. In practice, however, the camera was able to detect moving asteroids two magnitudes fainter than expected and imaged a total of 17 Main Belt asteroids. This indicates that the mission will be able to detect possible hazards around Bennu earlier and from a much greater distance that originally planned, further reducing mission risk.

    Scientists are still analyzing the implications of the search’s results for the potential population of Earth-Trojan asteroids and will publish conclusions after a thorough study of mission data.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information on OSIRIS-REx, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/osirisrex and http://www.asteroidmission.org

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 12:35 pm on February 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth-Trojan asteroid search, , NASA OSIRIS-REx, ,   

    From Spaceflight Insider: “OSIRIS-REx begins search for Earth-Trojan asteroids” 

    1

    Spaceflight Insider

    February 15th, 2017
    Jim Sharkey

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft
    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    1
    An artist’s rendering of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s survey pattern during its Earth-Trojan asteroid search (not to scale). The search started on Feb. 9, 2017, and will continue until Feb. 20, 2017, as the spacecraft transits the Earth’s L4 Lagrangian region. Image Credit: University of Arizona

    On Feb. 9, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft began searching for an elusive type of near-Earth object known as Earth-Trojan asteroids. The spacecraft, currently on a two-year outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu, will spend nearly two weeks looking for evidence of these small bodies.

    2
    OSIRIS-REX searches for elusive Earth-Trojan asteroids in Earth’s L4 Lagrange point. Image Credit: NASA

    Trojan asteroids are trapped inside stable gravity wells called Lagrange points, which precede or follow a planet as it orbits the Sun. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently traveling through Earth’s fourth Lagrange point (L4), which is approximately 90 million miles (150 million kilometers) away.

    The mission team will take multiple images of the area with OSIRIS-REx’s MapCam camera in the hope of detecting Earth-Trojan asteroids in the region.

    While researchers have discovered only one Earth-Trojan to date, asteroid 2010 TK7, thousands of Trojan asteroids have been found accompanying other planets, mostly around Jupiter. Researchers predict that there should be more Trojans sharing Earth’s orbit, but they are hard to find from Earth because they appear near the Sun on the horizon.

    “Because the Earth’s fourth Lagrange point is relatively stable, it is possible that remnants of the material that built Earth are trapped within it,” said Dante Lauretta. “So this search gives us a unique opportunity to explore the primordial building blocks of Earth.”

    Each day during the search, OSIRIS-REx’s MapCam will take 135 survey images that will be processed and analyzed by the mission’s imaging team at the University of Arizona, Tuscon. During the survey, MapCam will also image Jupiter, several galaxies, and main belt asteroids 55 Pandora, 47 Aglaja, and 12 Victoria.

    The search will continue until Feb. 20.

    The survey will be beneficial even if no new asteroids are discovered as the operations involved in searching for Trojans are similar to those required to search for natural satellites and other hazards around Bennu when the spacecraft approaches it in 2018.

    Practicing these kinds of mission-critical operations in advance will help OSIRIS-REx once the spacecraft arrives at Bennu.


    Video courtesy of NASA / University of Arizona

    See the full article here .

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    SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

    Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:14 pm on February 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroid 2010 TK7, , , , , NASA OSIRIS-REx   

    From Astronomy Now: “NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe moonlights as asteroid sleuth” 

    Astronomy Now bloc

    Astronomy Now

    1 February 2017
    Stephen Clark

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft
    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    1
    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will undertake a search for Earth-Trojan asteroids while on its outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu. Earth Trojans are asteroids that share an orbit with Earth while remaining near a stable point 60 degrees in front of or behind the planet. Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

    On course to collect specimens from asteroid Bennu after its launch last year, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will search this month for objects sharing an orbit with Earth, a bonus science opportunity to locate possible fragments of the primordial building blocks that formed our home planet.

    The long-range observations begin Feb. 9 and run through Feb. 20, using one of the probe’s cameras to look for asteroids embedded in swarms scientists believe lurk ahead of and behind Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

    Named Earth-Trojans, the objects likely group in clouds at Sun-Earth Lagrange points, where the combined pull of gravity from the bodies would allow asteroids to orbit in lock-step with Earth. The so-called L4 and L5 Lagrange points lead and follow Earth by 60 degrees in its path around the Sun.

    LaGrange Points map. NASA
    LaGrange Points map. NASA

    The same positions in front of and behind Jupiter harbour thousands of Trojan asteroids, and smaller Trojan swarms have been discovered near Venus, Mars, Uranus and Neptune.

    It turns out OSIRIS-REx is about to pass through the Sun-Earth L4 Lagrange point, and managers decided to scan the region where Earth-Trojans might be located to see what the spacecraft can find.

    Now located nearly 74 million miles (119 million kilometres) from Earth, OSIRIS-REx is on a seven year-journey to asteroid Bennu and back, charged with gathering rock samples from the mountain-sized object and delivering them to scientists for examination inside laboratories on the ground.

    Since its launch Sept. 8, 2016, OSIRIS-REx has switched on all of its science instruments and performed a major course correction maneuver to aim for a flyby of Earth this Sept. 22. Earth’s gravity will slingshot the spacecraft toward Bennu.

    2
    A rendering of Bennu, the target asteroid of the UA-led OSIRIS-REx mission. Bringing back a sample from Bennu will help scientists better understand how the solar system, including Earth, was formed. No image credit.

    The Dec. 28 burn changed OSIRIS-REx’s speed by 964 mph (431 metres per second) and consumed a quarter of the probe’s propellant supply. The maneuver was the largest of the mission until the Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft’s arrival burn at Bennu in August 2018.

    3
    Artist’s concept of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s deep space maneuver. Credit: NASA

    Another small “clean-up” thruster firing Jan. 18 further tweaked OSIRIS-REx’s trajectory, and the spacecraft switched over to its high-power antenna Jan. 25 to beam data back to Earth at faster rates.

    The milestones clear the way for the mission’s first science campaign next week.

    “The Earth-Trojan asteroid search provides a substantial advantage to the OSIRIS-REx mission,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator from the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Not only do we have the opportunity to discover new members of an asteroid class, but more importantly, we are practicing critical mission operations in advance of our arrival at Bennu, which ultimately reduces mission risk.”

    Only one of the elusive Earth-Trojans has been detected to date.

    Astronomers using NASA’s WISE infrared telescope confirmed the discovery of an asteroid in 2011 that fit the definition of an Earth-Trojan.

    NASA/WISE Telescope
    NASA/WISE Telescope

    Asteroid 2010 TK7 is about 1,000 feet (300 metres) in diameter, and experts predict its extreme orbit, which takes it far above and below the plane of the planets, will be stable for at least the next several thousand years.

    3
    Scientists consider 2010 TK7 an outlier of a large group of asteroids sharing Earth’s orbit, some of which may have been there since the solar system formed more than 4.5 billion years ago.
    The University of Western Ontario and CFHT

    “The orbital motion of 2010 TK7 is chaotic and unstable on billion-year timescales, and it is unlikely to be a remnant from the formation of the Earth,” Lauretta wrote in a blog post describing the upcoming observing campaign. “The existence and size of a primordial population of Earth-Trojans (genuine remnants of the building blocks of our planet) are not well constrained and represents a significant gap in our inventory of small bodies in near-Earth space.”

    Earth-Trojans are difficult to find from the ground because they are usually in daylight, and the WISE spacecraft orbiting Earth detected 2010 TK7 because its unique orbit oscillates farther from the sun’s position in the sky than most members of the group.

    Current ground-based surveys are only sensitive to Earth-Trojan asteroids bigger than about 3,000 feet, or approximately 1 kilometre, said Carl Hergenrother, an OSIRIS-REx staff scientist at the University of Arizona.

    4
    This artist’s concept illustrates the first known Earth-Trojan asteroid, discovered by NEOWISE, the asteroid-hunting portion of NASA’s WISE mission. The asteroid is shown in gray and its extreme orbit is shown in green. Earth’s orbit around the sun is indicated by blue dots. The objects are not drawn to scale. Credit: Paul Wiegert, University of Western Ontario, Canada

    By mid-February, OSIRIS-REx will be “an ideal spot to undertake a survey,” Lauretta wrote.

    Between Feb. 9 and Feb. 20, the spacecraft’s mapping camera will take 145 pictures per day of the volume of space where Earth-Trojans are expected to reside, according to Lauretta.

    “It’s a big cloud, and there should be material there,” Hergenrother said at a Jan. 12 meeting of NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group. “We should be able to detect stuff down to 100 metres (330 feet), and possibly even smaller, depending on the performance of our cameas, and the albedo (reflectivity).

    “If we don’t find anything, it either means there’s a lot less objects out there than we were thinking, or they’re a lot smaller,” Hergenrother said.

    While Lauretta said there is a scientific motivation for the Earth-Trojan search, the top reason for the campaign is to practice techniques the OSIRIS-REx science team plans to employ once the spacecraft arrives at Bennu.

    On approach to Bennu, the probe’s cameras will look near the asteroid to hunt for tiny miniature moons as small as 4 inches (10 centimetres). Navigators want to know the location of any debris around Bennu to prevent a crash with the spacecraft.

    Jupiter and several large distant asteroids will be imaged by OSIRIS-REx’s camera when it scans for Earth-Trojans. The images will help the ground team rehearse the complex real-time in-space navigation the mission requires during the rendezvous with Bennu, along with the identification of moving targets mimicking the behaviour of potential mini-moons surrounding the asteroid.

    Although the scientific objectives are secondary, Lauretta said his team is excited about the prospect of making a discovery so early in the mission.

    “We’ll clearly be able to set an upper limit on what’s out there because we know what we could detect if it was there,” Lauretta said at the Jan. 12 science meeting.

    OSIRIS-REx could also discover an asteroid from another family that just happens to pass through the camera’s field-of-view, Lauretta said. But scientists will pin down the orbit of any object OSIRIS-REx detects, and an Earth-Trojan asteroid locked in a stable orbit could be evidence of a larger cloud of mini-worlds hidden from view.

    “Is this dynamically stable? Could it be a primordial Earth object?” Lauretta asked, posing questions scientists will have if OSIRIS-REx finds anything starting next week. “That would be the most fascinating thing that we could discover.”

    See the full article here .

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