Monday, September 17, 2012

NASA's Name an Asteroid Contest

Artist's impression of the Chicxulub crater on the Yukatan peninsula in Mexico
Artist's impression of the Chicxulub crater on the Yukatan peninsula in Mexico. The massive impact of the asteroid may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs

NASA is calling on students around the world to help name a potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroid that the agency is hoping to visit with an unmanned probe that will collect samples of the space rock and return them home.

The asteroid, currently known as (101955) 1999 RQ36 could pose a threat to Earth when it swings close to our planet 170 years from now. Measuring 1,837 feet (560 meters) wide, asteroid 1999 RQ36 has a 1-in-1,000 chance of slamming into Earth in the year 2182, researchers have said.

NASA is planning an ambitious mission to return samples from the surface of 1999 RQ36. The expedition, called Osiris-Rex (short for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer), is scheduled to launch in 2016. The Osiris-Rex mission is expected to cost $800 million, a figure that does not include the cost of a launch vehicle.

Samples brought back by the Osiris-Rex mission could help scientists unlock some of the mysteries of the solar system's origin some 4.5 billion years ago, and the organic molecules that may have led to life on Earth. NASA is also planning to launch astronauts to an asteroid by the year 2025.

By soliciting suggestions from students, NASA is hoping to engage the next generation of scientists in astronomy and spaceflight.]
"Because the samples returned by the mission will be available for study for future generations, it is possible the person who names the asteroid will grow up to study the regolith we return to Earth," Jason Dworkin, Osiris-Rex project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement.

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