Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NASA Mission Wants Amateur Astronomers to Target Asteroids

April 18, 2012

Dwayne Brown 
Headquarters, Washington 
202-358-1726 
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov 

Nancy Neal Jones 
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. 
301-286-0039 
nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov 

RELEASE: 12-121

NASA MISSION WANTS AMATEUR ASTRONOMERS TO TARGET ASTEROIDS

WASHINGTON -- A new NASA outreach project will enlist the help of 
amateur astronomers to discover near-Earth objects (NEOs) and study 
their characteristics. NEOs are asteroids with orbits that 
occasionally bring them close to the Earth. 

Starting today, a new citizen science project called "Target 
Asteroids!" will support NASA's Origins Spectral Interpretation 
Resource Identification Security - Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) 
mission objectives to improve basic scientific understanding of NEOs. 
OSIRIS-Rex is scheduled for launch in 2016 and will study material 
from an asteroid. 

Amateur astronomers will help better characterize the population of 
NEOs, including their position, motion, rotation and changes in the 
intensity of light they emit. Professional astronomers will use this 
information to refine theoretical models of asteroids, improving 
their understanding about asteroids similar to the one OSIRIS-Rex 
will encounter in 2019, designated 1999 RQ36. 

OSIRIS-Rex will map the asteroid's global properties, measure 
non-gravitational forces and provide observations that can be 
compared with data obtained by telescope observations from Earth. In 
2023, OSIRIS-REx will return back to Earth at least 2.11 ounces (60 
grams) of surface material from the asteroid. 

Target Asteroids! data will be useful for comparisons with actual 
mission data. The project team plans to expand participants in 2014 
to students and teachers. 

"Although few amateur astronomers have the capability to observe 1999 
RQ36 itself, they do have the capability to observe other targets," 
said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA's Goddard 
Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. 

Previous observations indicate 1999 RQ36 is made of primitive 
materials. OSIRIS-REx will supply a wealth of information about the 
asteroid's composition and structure. Data also will provide new 
insights into the nature of the early solar system and its evolution, 
orbits of NEOs and their impact risks, and the building blocks that 
led to life on Earth. 

Amateur astronomers long have provided NEO tracking observations in 
support of NASA's NEO Observation Program. A better understanding of 
NEOs is a critically important precursor in the selection and 
targeting of future asteroid missions. 

"For well over 10 years, amateurs have been important contributors in 
the refinement of orbits for newly discovered near-Earth objects," 
said Edward Beshore, deputy principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx 
mission at the University of Arizona in Tucson. 

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will provide 
overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and 
mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the mission's 
principal investigator at the University of Arizona. Lockheed Martin 
Space Systems in Denver will build the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the 
third mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program. NASA's Marshall Space 
Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages New Frontiers for the 
agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. 

For more information about NASA, visit: 


http://www.nasa.gov 

For more information on Target Asteroids! and OSIRIS-REx, visit: 

http://osiris-rex.lpl.arizona.edu 

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