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OSIRIS-REX Spacecraft Will Search for Earth-Trojan Asteroids!

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When OSIRIS-REx passes near 
Earth’s L-4 point in February, 
on its way to asteroid Bennu, 
it’ll turn on its cameras to search for Trojan asteroids.
 Illustration via OSIRIS-REx/UA.
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.

Space mission planner take full advantage of the gravitationally stable Lagrangian points by placing spacecraft at them, or in orbit around them.


In this illustration, our Earth and moon are inside the red circle. If there are Trojan asteroids traveling in Earth’s orbit (besides the 1 already known), they’ll be at L4 and L5. Image via Wikimedia Commons.


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