Meet asteroid 1999 RQ36, a chunk of rock and dust about 1,900 feet in diameter that could tell us how the solar system was born, and perhaps, shed light on how life began. It also might hit us someday.
"This asteroid is a time capsule from before the birth of our solar system," said Bill Cutlip of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., one of the leaders of Goddard's effort to propose a mission called OSIRIS-REx that will return a sample from RQ36.
If selected, Goddard will provide overall mission management for OSIRIS-REx, working with the Principal Investigator, Dr. Michael Drake, Director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, who will lead the OSIRIS-REx team. Lockheed Martin Space Systems will build the spacecraft.
"You can't underestimate the value of a pristine sample," Cutlip added. Meteorites, pieces of asteroids that break away and plunge to Earth, are "toasted on their way through Earth's atmosphere," Cutlip explained. "Once they land, they then soak up the microbes and chemicals from the environment around them."
"With a pristine sample especially one from an asteroid type not available in NASA's meteorite collections scientists will learn more about the time before the birth of our solar system, the initial stages of planet formation, and the source of organic compounds available for the origin of life," said Dr. Joseph Nuth of NASA Goddard, OSIRIS-REx Project Scientist.
Asteroids are leftovers from the cloud of gas and dust the solar nebula -- that collapsed to form our sun and the planets about 4.5 billion years ago. As such, they contain the original material from the solar nebula, which can tell us about the conditions of our solar system's birth.
In some asteroids, this material got altered by heat and chemical reactions, either because they collided with other asteroids, or because they grew so large that their interiors became molten. Th
|Contact: Bill Steigerwald|
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center