Spacecraft to search for Trojan asteroids

DATE: 19/12/2016

In February 2017, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will search for Earth-Trojan asteroids in the vicinity of Earth’s L-4 point while on its outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu.

Earth’s number of known Trojan asteroid might take a leap up (or not) in February 2017, when the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft – on its two-year outbound journey to asteroid Bennu – passes near Earth’s gravitationally stable L-4 point. This point lies 60 degrees ahead of us in orbit. Asteroids should, in theory, gather near there. Between February 9 and 20, the NASA spacecraft – whose mission team is at University of Arizona (UA) – will activate its onboard camera suite and search for Earth-Trojan asteroids.

The L-4 point is a Lagrangian point in the Earth-sun system. It’s sometimes referred to as a gravity well. Objects caught in orbit around L-4 aren’t pulled closer to either the sun or the Earth. Instead, they maintain their configuration – near one tip of an equilateral triangle with the Earth and sun – always moving ahead of Earth in orbit.

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By the way, because Trojan asteroids stay 60 degrees ahead of or behind Earth in orbit, there’s no danger they’ll collide with us.


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