Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Asteroid 1999 RQ36 Will Become Famous in 2019

Yes, NASA is planning another mission, and this time, not to any planet or protoplanet. We have experienced many NASA feats such as Juno, Opportunity, Dawn, and many others! But this time, NASA is sending, hopefully in September 2016, the new OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to go and collect shovelfuls of dirt from asteroid 1999 RQ36. "We call it 'touch and go,'" explains principal investigator Michael Drake of the University of Arizona. "OSIRIS-REx will approach the surface at 0.1 m/sec (only 0.2 mph, less than a tenth of walking pace) and, without landing, stretch out its arm equipped with a sample collector. We'll simply agitate the asteroid's surface with ultra-pure nitrogen to stir up material for capture."

Although NASA knows that many asteroids are dull and barren; they're not so sure about 1999 RQ36, they think it might have some different materials on its surface: different than other asteroids. NASA clarifies further:  "Observations by ground-based telescopes suggest that asteroid 1999 RQ36 has a wealth of carbon-based compounds, but we don't know exactly what is there. Are there amino acids? To find out, we need to bring a sample home where we have sophisticated, exquisitely precise instruments, plus the ability to react to new discoveries." And, "Obtaining that sample is a key part of OSIRIS-REx's mission."

This is a special asteroid, for another reason, becasue it sits as number one for NEO (near-earth-object) 'Most Likely to Succeed" and hit earth. According to UniverseToday.com, researchers say that this asteroid has a one-in-one-thousand chance in striking our planet. "NASA gives us between a 1 in 3,850 and a 1 in 3,570 chance that 1999 RQ35 could potentially impact Earth on September 24, 2182. To make everyone breathe a little easier, that’s a 99.97200000% chance the asteroid will completely miss the Earth." Maria Eugenia  Sansaturio from Universidad de Valladolid remaks: "The total impact probability of asteroid ‘(101955) 1999 RQ36′ can be estimated in 0.00092 approximately one-in-a-thousand chance, but what is most surprising is that over half of this chance (0.00054) corresponds to 2182." READ MORE

When OSIRIUS-REx reaches the asteroid, the spacecraft's cameras and instruments will spend one entire year photographing, measuring topographic features, learning more about chemical compositions and thermal emissions as its radio will provide mass and gravity field maps."This information will increase our understanding of asteroids as well as help the mission team select the most promising sample site," NASA writes. So, launching in September of 2016, OSIRIUS-REx will travel for three years to 1999 RQ36 to look just for a few samples of asteroid 'dirt.' But, to NASA, this dirt may be revolutionary.

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