Scientists Observe A Superluminous Supernova That Appears To Have Exploded Twice

Supernovae are among the most violent phenomena in the universe. They are huge explosions that end the lives of certain types of stars. These explosions release immense amounts of energy, so much that some can be observed from Earth with the naked eye, appearing as points of light that are briefly brighter than all the millions of stars in the galaxies where they are found. Following an intense burst of light lasting a few weeks, supernovae start to fade gradually until they have effectively burned out.

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There are several types of supernovae. The astronomers classify them by their observable characteristics, which give clues about their origin. Among the most well known are those of type Ia .When a white dwarf, the final state of a star slightly more massive than the sun, absorbs mass from another nearby star or merges with another white dwarf, its mass grows until it becomes unstable and a thermonuclear explosion occurs. As these events produce a characteristic luminosity, they can be used by astronomers as “standard candles” to measure large distances in the universe, like sailors to inferring the distance of a known lighthouse at night by estimating its brightness.

The other types of supernovae are produced when very massive stars exhaust their fuel, so that nuclear fusion in their interiors comes to an end. This fusion not only causes stars to emit light and heat, but keeps them in equilibrium so that they don’t collapse under their own gravity. When the fusion stops, the centre of the star collapses and the outer layers are flung outwards with violence, causing a supernova, while the centre implodes, leaving a neutron star—or for very massive stars, a black hole.

In recent years, a new type of supernova has been discovered, about which very little is yet known, and which are brighter and longer-lasting. Astronomers call them superluminous supernovae (SLSN). Although only about a dozen of them are known, an international group of researchers has used the Gran Telescopio CANARIAS (GTC) to observe a superluminous supernova almost from the moment it occurred. The research has revealed surprising behaviour, because this supernova showed an initial increase in brightness that later declined for a few days, and then increased again much more strongly. The scientists have combined from the GTC with other observations in order to try to explain the origin of the phenomenon.

“Superluminous supernovas are up to a hundred times more energetic than type 1a supernovae because they can remain bright for up to six months before fading, rather than just a few weeks,” explains Mathew Smith, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southampton (UK) and the person directing this study, whose results have been published in the specialized journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “What we have managed to observe, which is completely new, is that before the major explosion, there is a shorter, less luminous outburst, which we can pick out because it is followed by a dip in the light curve, and which lasts just a few days.”

It is the first time that something like this has been observed in a supernova. “From our data, we have tried to determine if this is a characteristic unique to this object, or whether it is a common feature of all superluminous supernovae, but has not been observed before, which is perfectly possible given their unpredictable nature,” says the scientist.

This new, intriguing object, given the cryptic name of DES14X3taz by the astronomers, was discovered on December 21, 2014 by the Dark Energy Survey, an international project that surveys the night sky, making precision measurements of over 300 million galaxies that are situated thousands of millions of light years from Earth, and incidentally detecting thousands of supernovae and other transient phenomena. The objective of this survey is to explain the expansion of the universe, and to find clues to the nature of dark energy. To do this, astronomers are using an extremely sensitive 570 megapixel digital camera on the four metre Victor M. Blanco telescope at the Inter-American Observatory at Cerro Tololo (Chile).

Once DES14X3taz had been identified as a possible superluminous supernova, an immediate observation was requested on the GTC, which turned its powerful eye toward it over two nights of observation, January 26 and February 6, 2015. GTC devotes some of its observing time to “targets of opportunity,” so that other programmed observations can postponed to prioritize such transient phenomena, which may offer unrepeatable opportunities.

“The GTC, with its huge 10.4m mirror, and its OSIRIS instrument, is the ideal tool to observer this SNSL, which is at a vast distance and because we are looking for information in the visible and the near infrared,” says Smith, who is a participant in the Dark Energy Survey. Thanks to the observations made with the GTC and other telescopes, Smith and his collaborators could reconstruct the evolution of the brightness of DES14X3taz from almost the moment of its detection. They have also determined its absolute brightness with great precision, as well as its distance, some 6,400 million light years.

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After comparing their observations with several physical models, the astronomers concluded in their article that the most plausible explanation is that the mechanism causing this supernova is the birth of a “magnetar,” a neutron star that rotates very rapidly on its axis. In the data, the initial peak of the brightness graph is followed by rapid cooling of the object, after which there is a quicker rise in brightness. This is consistent with the emission of a huge bubble of material into the surrounding space, which cools rapidly as it grows in size.

“We think that a very massive star, some 200 times the mass of the Sun, collapses to form a magnetar. In the process, the first explosion occurs, which expels into space a quantity of matter equivalent to the mass of our sun, and this gives rise to the first peak of the graph. The second peak occurs when the star collapses to form the magnetar, which is a very dense object rotating rapidly on its axis, and which heats up the matter expelled from the first explosion. This heating is what generates the second peak in the luminosity,” explains Smith.

This understanding may allow us to “standardize” superluminous supernovae as has occurred for the type Ia supernovae for use as a reference source for distance measurement on large scales in the universe. Its high luminosity may make these objects useful for calculating distances on larger scales, and with greater accuracy than current techniques. However, before we get to that point, we need a much deeper understanding of their origin and their nature.

Another mystery about this new type of supernova is that, until recently, all the examples detected have been in small galaxies with low metallicity (low content in heavy elements), which is not well understood. “It is a part of the mystery of these objects,” says Smith, and adds that among future priorities, we need to detect more superluminous supernovae and observe them from the moment they explode in real time with a telescope the size of the GTC.

Experimentation Suggests Vikings Could Have Used Sunstone To Navigate

A team of researchers from several institutions in Hungary has conducted experiments meant to test the possibility that the Vikings actually did use sunstones to navigate. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, the team describes the experiments they carried out, their results and why they now believe it is possible to use a sunstone as a navigational aid during times when the skies are covered with clouds.

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The exploits of the Vikings have been well documented—they conducted raids across Europe from the late 790s till 1066, when the Normans famously conquered England. But as more recent research has established, they were also long-distance seafaring travelers, venturing as far as the Middle East and North America. But how they found their way across vast stretches of ocean has been a bit of a mystery, particularly during times when there were no stars or sun in the sky to guide them. Some historical evidence such as Icelandic legends have mentioned travel under snowy skies using sunstones and a study of a Viking wreck conducted in 2002 revealed that a crystal (Icelandic spar) had been onboard that was found near other implements used for navigation.

Modern sunstone is a type of crystal that, when viewed from different angles, offers a spangled optical effect. In this new effort, the researchers have conducted a study designed to test the possibility that such crystals could really have helped Vikings find their way across the ocean.

They believe it was a three step process: (1) determine the direction of light from the sky using the sunstone held up to the sky, (2) use that information to determine the direction of sunlight and then (3) use a shadow stick to determine which direction was north. The team previously conducted tests to measure the accuracy of the first two steps and, apparently satisfied with the results, have now conducted experiments with the third.

To test the third step, the researchers asked 10 volunteers to try to work out the position of the sun in a digital planetarium using dots to stand in for results of using a sunstone. After conducting a total of 2,400 trials, the researchers report that 48 percent resulted in producing an accurate reading to within just one degree. They noted also that the volunteers did best when the virtual sun was near the horizon, showing that the method worked best at dawn and dusk. The team suggests their results indicate that it was possible that the Vikings used sunstones to navigate under cloudy skies.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Heats Planet’s Upper Atmosphere

Researchers from Boston University’s (BU) Center for Space Physics report today in Nature that Jupiter’s Great Red Spot may provide the mysterious source of energy required to heat the planet’s upper atmosphere to the unusually high values observed.

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Sunlight reaching Earth efficiently heats the terrestrial atmosphere at altitudes well above the sur-face—even at 250 miles high, for example, where the International Space Station orbits. Jupiter is over five times more distant from the Sun, and yet its upper atmosphere has temperatures, on av-erage, comparable to those found at Earth. The sources of the non-solar energy responsible for this extra heating have remained elusive to scientists studying processes in the outer solar system.

“With solar heating from above ruled out, we designed observations to map the heat distribution over the entire planet in search for any temperature anomalies that might yield clues as to where the energy is coming from,” explained Dr. James O’Donoghue, research scientist at BU, and lead author of the study.

Astronomers measure the temperature of a planet by observing the non-visible, infra-red (IR) light it emits. The visible cloud tops we see at Jupiter are about 30 miles above its rim; the IR emissions used by the BU team came from heights about 500 miles higher. When the BU observ-ers looked at their results, they found high altitude temperatures much larger than anticipated whenever their telescope looked at certain latitudes and longitudes in the planet’s southern hemi-sphere.

“We could see almost immediately that our maximum temperatures at high altitudes were above the Great Red Spot far below—a weird coincidence or a major clue?” O’Donoghue added.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS) is one of the marvels of our solar system. Discovered within years of Galileo’s introduction of telescopic astronomy in the 17th Century, its swirling pattern of colorful gases is often called a “perpetual hurricane.” The GRS has varied is size and color over the centuries, spans a distance equal to three earth-diameters, and has winds that take six days to complete one spin. Jupiter itself spins very quickly, completing one revolution in only ten hours.

“The Great Red Spot is a terrific source of energy to heat the upper atmosphere at Jupiter, but we had no prior evidence of its actual effects upon observed temperatures at high altitudes,” ex-plained Dr. Luke Moore, a study co-author and research scientist in the Center for Space Physics at BU.

Solving an “energy crisis” on a distant planet has implications within our solar system, as well as for planets orbiting other stars. As the BU scientists point out, the unusually high temperatures far above Jupiter’s visible disk is not a unique aspect of our solar system. The dilemma also oc-curs at Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and probably for all giant exoplanets outside our solar sys-tem.

“Energy transfer to the upper atmosphere from below has been simulated for planetary atmos-pheres, but not yet backed up by observations,” O’Donoghue said. “The extremely high tempera-tures observed above the storm appear to be the ‘smoking gun’ of this energy transfer, indicating that planet-wide heating is a plausible explanation for the ‘energy crisis.’ “

The Case Of The Missing Craters

When NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived to orbit the dwarf planet Ceres in March 2015, mission scientists expected to find a heavily cratered body generally resembling the protoplanet Vesta, Dawn’s previous port of call.

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Instead, as the spacecraft drew near to Ceres, a somewhat different picture began to emerge: Something has happened to Ceres to remove its biggest impact basins.

Now, writing in the online journal Nature Communications, a team of Dawn scientists led by Simone Marchi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, reports on their computer simulations of Ceres’ history. These suggest that Ceres has experienced significant geological evolution, possibly erasing the large basins.

The Dawn team includes Arizona State University’s David Williams, who is the director of the Ronald Greeley Center for Planetary Studies in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. Wiliams oversees a team of researchers using Dawn data to map the geology of Ceres.

He says, “When we first starting looking at Ceres images, we noticed that there weren’t any really large impact basins on the surface.” None are larger than 177 miles (285 kilometers) across. This presents a mystery, he says, because Ceres must have been struck by large asteroids many times over its 4.5-billion-year history.

“Even Vesta, only about half of Ceres’ size, has two big basins at its south pole. But at Ceres, all we saw was the Kerwan Basin, just 177 miles in diameter,” Williams says. “That was a big red flag that something had happened to Ceres.”

The Kerwan Basin’s name was proposed by Williams, and it commemorates the Hopi Indian spirit of the sprouting corn.

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Dawn lead investigator Marchi notes, “We concluded that a significant population of large craters on Ceres has been obliterated beyond recognition over geological time scales, which is likely the result of Ceres’ peculiar composition and internal evolution.”

The team’s simulations of collisions with Ceres predicted that it should have 10 to 15 craters larger than 250 miles (400 kilometers) in diameter, and at least 40 craters larger than 60 miles (100 kilometers) wide. In reality, however, Dawn found that Ceres has only 16 craters larger than 60 miles, and none larger than the 177-mile Kerwan Basin.

Further study of Dawn’s images revealed that Ceres does have three large-scale depressions called “planitiae” that are up to 500 miles (800 kilometers) wide. These have craters within them that formed in more recent times, but the depressions could be left over from bigger impacts.
One of the depressions, called Vendimia Planitia, is a sprawling area just north of the Kerwan Basin. Vendimia Planitia must have formed much earlier than Kerwan.

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So what removed Ceres’ large craters and basins?

“If Ceres were highly rocky, we’d expect impact craters of all sizes to be preserved. Remote sensing from Earth, however, told us even before Dawn arrived that the crust of Ceres holds a significant fraction of ice in some form,” Williams explains.

If Ceres’ crust contained a large proportion of ice—especially if mixed with salts—that would weaken the crust and let the topography of a large basin relax and become smoother, perhaps even disappear.

In addition, says Williams, Ceres must have generated some internal heat from the decay of radioactive elements after it formed. This too could also have helped soften or erase large-scale topographic features.

He adds, “Plus we do see evidence of cryovolcanism—icy volcanism—in the bright spots found scattered over Ceres, especially in Occator Crater.” Cryovolcanism behaves like the rocky kind, only at much lower temperatures, where “molten ice”—water or brine—substitutes for molten rock.

“It’s possible that there are layers or pockets of briny water in the crust of Ceres,” says Williams. “Under the right conditions, these could migrate to the surface and be sources for the bright spots.”

For example, in Occator Crater, he points out, “the central bright spot is a domed feature which looks as if it has erupted or been pushed up from below.”
NASA plans for Dawn to continue orbiting Ceres as the dwarf planet makes its closest approach to the Sun in April 2018. Scientists want to see if the increasing solar warmth triggers any activity or produces detectable changes in Ceres’ surface.

“Ceres is revealing only slowly the answers to her many mysteries,” Williams says. “Completing the geological maps over the next year, and further analysis of the compositional and gravity data, will help us understand better Ceres’ geologic evolution.”

Ancient Temples In The Himalaya Reveal Signs Of Past Earthquakes

Tilted pillars, cracked steps, and sliding stone canopies in a number of 7th-century A.D. temples in northwest India are among the telltale signs that seismologists are using to reconstruct the extent of some of the region’s larger historic earthquakes.

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In their report published online July 27 in Seismological Research Letters, Mayank Joshi and V.C. Thakur of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology show how the signs of destructive earthquakes are imprinted upon the ancient stone and wooden temples.

The temples in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, India lie within the Kashmir “seismic gap” of the Northwest Himalaya range, an area that is thought to have the potential for earthquakes magnitude 7.5 or larger. The new analysis extends rupture zones for the 1905 Kangra earthquake (magnitude 7.8) and the 1555 Kashmir earthquake (possibly a magnitude 7.6 quake) within the Kashmir gap.

The type of damage sustained by temples clustered around two towns in the region—Chamba and Bharmour—suggests that the Chamba temples may have been affected by the 1555 earthquake, while the Bharmour temples were damaged by the 1905 quake, the seismologists conclude.

The epicenter of the 1555 earthquake is thought to be in the Srinagar Valley, about 200 kilometers northwest of Chamba. If the 1555 earthquake did extend all the way to Chamba, Joshi said, “this further implies that the eastern Kashmir Himalaya segment between Srinagar and Chamba has not been struck by a major earthquake for the last 451 years.”

The stress built up in this section of the fault, Joshi added, “may be able to generate an earthquake of similar magnitude to that of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake that devastated the eastern Kashmir.”

That magnitude 7.6 earthquake killed more than 85,000 people, mostly in north Pakistan, and caused massive infrastructure damage.

To better understand the historical earthquake record in the region, Joshi and Thakur examined several temples in the region to look for telltale signs of earthquake damage. It can be difficult at first to distinguish whether a tilted pillar, for example, is due to centuries of aging or to earthquake deformation.
But Joshi noted that archaeoseismologists are trained to look for regular kinds of deformation to a structure—damages “that have some consistency in their pattern and orientation,” said Joshi. “In the cases of aging and ground subsidence, there is no regular pattern of damage.”

At the temples, the researchers measured the tilt direction, the amount of inclination on pillars and the full temple structures, and cracks in building stones, among other types of damage. They then compared this damage to historic accounts of earthquakes and information about area faults to determine which earthquakes were most likely to have caused the damage.

“In the Chamba-area temples, there are some marker features that indicate that the body of the temple structure has suffered some internal deformation,” said Joshi. “The pillars and temple structures are tilted with respect to their original positions. The rooftop portions show tilting or displacement.”
Other earthquake damage uncovered by the researchers included upwarping of stone floors, cracked walls, and a precariously leaning fort wall.

“The deformation features also give some clues about the intensity of an earthquake,” Joshi explained. “For example if a structure experiences a higher intensity XI or X, then the structure could collapse. But if the structure is not collapsed but it tilts only, then it indicates that the structure experienced lower intensity of IX and VIII.”

The Mercalli intensity scale is a measurement of the observed effects of an earthquake, such as its impact on buildings and other infrastructure. Scale measurements of VIII (“severe”) and IX (“violent”) would indicate significant damage, while higher scale measurements indicate partial to complete destruction of buildings, roads, and other infrastructure.

Comet Lovejoy Shows Asymmetric Behavior At Perihelion

Indian astronomers have recently conducted spectrographic observations of long-period Comet Lovejoy to study its gas emission. They found that this comet showcases an asymmetric behavior at perihelion and an increase in the activity during the post-perihelion phase. The findings were detailed in a paper published July 22 on the arXiv pre-print server.

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Comet Lovejoy, formally designated C/2014 Q2, is an Oort cloud comet, discovered by Terry Lovejoy in August 2014. Its perihelion was on January 30, 2015 at a heliocentric distance of 1.29 AU, offering astronomers an excellent opportunity to observe its activity—in particular, the emission of numerous organic molecules in gas.

The scientists, led by Kumar Venkataramani of the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, India, utilized the LISA spectrograph to obtain spectra of the comet. LISA is a low-resolution, high luminosity spectrograph, designed for the spectroscopic study of faint and extended objects. The instrument is installed on the 0.5 m telescope at the Mount Abu Infra-Red Observatory (MIRO), Mount Abu, India.

The observation campaign lasted from January to May 2015. It covered the period during which the comet’s heliocentric distance varied from 1.29 AU, just prior to perihelion, to around 2.05 AU post perihelion. The spectra obtained by the researchers show strong molecular emission bands of diatomic carbon, tricarbon, cyanide, amidogen, hydridocarbon and neutral oxygen.

“Various molecular emission lines like C2, C3, CN, NH2, CH, O were clearly seen in the comet spectrum throughout this range. The most prominent of them being the C2 molecule, which was quite dominant throughout the time that we have followed the comet. Apart from the C2 emission band, those of CN and C3 were also quite prominent,” the scientist wrote in the paper.

When a cold icy body like the Comet Lovejoy passes by the sun near perihelion, its ices start sublimating, releasing a mixture of gas and dust, which form the coma. Studying these emissions is crucial for scientists as comets could hold the key to our understanding of the solar system’s evolution and the origin of life in the universe. Therefore, the abundance of volatile material in comets is the target of many scientific studies that seek to reveal the secrets of planet formation and demonstrate the conditions that occurred when our solar system was born.

According to the study, the gas production rate increased after perihelion and exhibited a decreasing trend only after February 2015. The researchers also noted a simultaneous increase in gas and dust, indicating an increase in the overall activity of the comet after its perihelion passage.

“This kind of asymmetry has been seen in many comets. (…) Although we do not have data points at exactly the same distance for pre- and post-perihelion passages, we can, perhaps, say that this comet may have a large positive asymmetry,” the paper reads.

The scientists concluded that this asymmetry suggests that there might be volatile material present beneath the surface of the comet. It is also possible that the surface of the comet’s nucleus consists of layers of ice that have different vaporization rates.

However, as the team noted, more exhaustive study is required to confirm their conclusions.

NASA To Map The Surface Of An Asteroid

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will launch September 2016 and travel to a near-Earth asteroid known as Bennu to harvest a sample of surface material and return it to Earth for study. The science team will be looking for something special. Ideally, the sample will come from a region in which the building blocks of life may be found.

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To identify these regions on Bennu, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) team equipped the spacecraft with an instrument that will measure the spectral signatures of Bennu’s mineralogical and molecular components.

Known as OVIRS (short for the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer), the instrument will measure visible and near-infrared light reflected and emitted from the asteroid and split the light into its component wavelengths, much like a prism that splits sunlight into a rainbow.

“OVIRS is key to our search for organics on Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “In particular, we will rely on it to find the areas of Bennu rich in organic molecules to identify possible sample sites of high science value, as well as the asteroid’s general composition.”

OVIRS will work in tandem with another OSIRIS-REx instrument—the Thermal Emission Spectrometer, or OTES. While OVIRS maps the asteroid in the visible and near infrared, OTES picks up in the thermal infrared. This allows the science team to map the entire asteroid over a range of wavelengths that are most interesting to scientists searching for organics and water, and help them to select the best site for retrieving a sample.

In the visible and infrared spectrum, minerals and other materials have unique signatures like fingerprints. These fingerprints allow scientists to identify various organic materials, as well as carbonates, silicates and absorbed water, on the surface of the asteroid. The data returned by OVIRS and OTES will actually allow scientists to make a map of the relative abundance of various materials across Bennu’s surface.

“I can’t think of a spectral payload that has been quite this comprehensive before,” said Dennis Reuter, OVIRS instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

OVIRS will be active during key phases throughout the mission. As the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaches Bennu, OVIRS will view one entire hemisphere at a time to measure how the spectrum changes as the asteroid rotates, allowing scientists to compare ground-based observations to those from the spacecraft. Once at the asteroid, OVIRS will gather spectral data and create detailed maps of the surface and help in the selection of a sample site.

Using information gathered by OVIRS and OTES from the visible to the thermal infrared, the science team will also study the Yarkovsky Effect, or how Bennu’s orbit is affected by surface heating and cooling throughout its day. The asteroid is warmed by sunlight and re-emits thermal radiation in different directions as it rotates. This asymmetric thermal emission gives Bennu a small but steady push, thus changing its orbit over time. Understanding this effect will help scientists study Bennu’s orbital path, improve our understanding of the Yarkovsky effect, and improve our predictions of its influence on the orbits of other asteroids.

But despite its capabilities to perform complex science, OVIRS is surprisingly inexpensive and compact in its design. The entire spectrometer operates at 10 watts, requiring less power than a standard household light bulb.

“When you put it into that perspective, you can see just how efficient this instrument is, even though it is taking extremely complicated science measurements,” said Amy Simon, deputy instrument scientist for OVIRS at Goddard. “We’ve put a big job in a compact instrument.”
Unlike most spectrometers, OVIRS has no moving parts, reducing the risk of a malfunction.

“We designed OVIRS to be robust and capable of lasting a long time in space,” Reuter said. “Think of how many times you turn on your computer and something doesn’t work right or it just won’t start up. We can’t have that type of thing happen during the mission.”

Drastic temperature changes in space will put the instrument’s robust design to the test. OVIRS is a cryogenic instrument, meaning that it must be at very low temperatures to produce the best data. Generally, it doesn’t take much for something to stay cool in space. That is, until it comes in contact with direct sunlight.
Heat inside OVIRS would increase the amount of thermal radiation and scattered light, interfering with the infrared data. To avoid this risk, the scientists anodized the spectrometer’s interior coating. Anodizing increases a metal’s resistance to corrosion and wear. Anodized coatings can also help reduce scattered light, lowering the risk of compromising OVIRS’ observations.

The team also had to plan for another major threat: water. The scientists will search for traces of water when they scout the surface for a sample site. Because the team will be searching for tiny water levels on Bennu’s surface, any water inside OVIRS would skew the results. And while the scientists don’t have to worry about a torrential downpour in space, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft may accumulate moisture while resting on its launch pad in Florida’s humid environment.

Immediately after launch, the team will turn on heaters on the instrument to bake off any water. The heat will not be intense enough to cause any damage to OVIRS, and the team will turn the heaters off once all of the water has evaporated.

“There are always challenges that we don’t know about until we get there, but we try to plan for the ones that we know about ahead of time,” said Simon.
OVIRS will be essential for helping the team choose the best sample site. Its data and maps will give the scientists a picture of what is present on Bennu’s surface.

In addition to OVIRS, Goddard will provide overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.