April 20, 2012
NASA Asking For Help With ‘Target Asteroids!’ Project
NASA announced a new project on Wednesday that will enlist help from amateur astronomers to discover near-Earth objects (NEOs).
The project, known as "Target Asteroids!", will support NASA's Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security - Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission.
OSIRIS-REx aims to improve basic scientific understanding of NEOs and is scheduled to launch in 2016.
NASA is asking amateur astronomers to 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 help refine theoretical models of asteroids, as well as improve their understanding about asteroids similar to the one OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to encounter with in 2019.
OSIRIS-REx will map the global properties of asteroid 1999 RQ36, as well as measure non-gravitational forces and provide observations that can be compared with data obtained by telescope observations from Earth.
The spacecraft will return back to Earth in 2023, along with at least 2.11 ounces of surface material that it obtained from the asteroid.
The data obtained through the amateur astronomer project will be used for comparison and 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," Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, said.
Asteroid 1999 RQ36 is made of primitive materials, and NASA said its spacecraft will help supply scientists with knowledge about the asteroid composition and structure.
This data obtained by OSIRIS-REx will provide new insights into the nature of the early solar system and its evolutions, as well as orbits of NEOs and their impact risks.
Amateur astronomers have been providing NEO tracking observations in support of NASA's NEO Observation Program. This information is important to have for future asteroid missions.
"For well over 10 years, amateurs have been important contributors in the refinement of orbits for newly discovered near-Earth objects," Edward Beshore, deputy principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said.