NASA approves mission that includes ASU-designed, -built thermal emission spectrometer

Voyage will explore asteroids that scientists hope will detail history of solar system

January 4, 2017

NASA has approved a mission to explore asteroids that scientists — including Arizona State University researchers behind a key component — hope will reveal details about the earliest history of the solar system.    

The Lucy mission will carry an ASU-designed and -developed thermal emission spectrometer, which will measure surface temperatures on each asteroid the spacecraft visits, said Philip Christensen of the university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. The Thermal Emission Spectrometer for the Lucy mission will be a close copy of the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer, seen here under construction in the cleanroom on the Tempe campus. Its task in the Lucy mission will be to measure surface temperatures of primitive asteroids as a way of determining their physical properties. Photo by Philip Christensen/ASU Download Full Image

"I'm really excited about this instrument, the third to be built here at SESE," said Christensen, thermal emission spectrometer designer and principal investigator.

The device continues a growing tradition of hands-on engineering for exploration that has become hallmark of the school, said Christensen, Regents' Professor of geological sciences.

The announcement Wednesday came as NASA also selected for development an ASU-led mission to a metallic asteroid.

Both projects were approved through NASA's Discovery Program, a series of cost-capped exploratory missions into the solar system.

The Lucy mission was named for the iconic fossil skeleton, since it will investigate a particular collection of primitive asteroids that scientists hope may uncover fossils of planetary formation.

Its flight plan calls for a 2021 launch. Among the potential targets for an extended mission is asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson, named for the discoverer of the Lucy fossil and director of ASU's Institute of Human Origins in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

"With each new mission, we're expanding the types of solar system objects we're studying here at ASU."

— Philip Christensen, ASU Regents' Professor of geological sciences

Originating at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, the mission is under the direction of principal investigator Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute.

The target objects for the Lucy mission are asteroids that have never before been studied at close range. These minor planets circle the sun at same distance as Jupiter, roughly five times farther out than Earth, and in the same 12-year orbit as Jupiter. Through a quirk of orbital dynamics, they remain caught in two swarms, one leading and one trailing Jupiter as it orbits the sun.

The first of these asteroids was discovered in 1906 and named for the Greek warrior Achilles from Homer's epic poem "The Iliad."

As more asteroids were discovered in similar orbits, astronomers started naming them after Homeric Greek and Trojan warriors. Those with Greek names orbit ahead of Jupiter, the Trojan-named ones orbit behind. Collectively, however, both groups are called Trojans, and there are now nearly 6,200 known asteroids in Trojan orbits with Jupiter.

The mission should arrive among the Trojans in 2027 and visit six asteroids by 2033.

Because Jupiter's Trojan asteroids orbit far from the sun, they all have very cold surfaces. The role in the mission for TES, Christensen said, is to measure temperatures with great precision all over each asteroid that the Lucy spacecraft visits. 

"By mapping how temperatures vary by the local time of day," Christensen explained, "we can map the surface properties of these previously unknown objects."

That will help planetary scientists decipher their histories and how they have changed since the solar system's early days.

"With each new mission," Christensen said, "we're expanding the types of solar system objects we're studying here are ASU."

Robert Burnham

Science writer, School of Earth and Space Exploration


ASU Employee Wellness screenings, classes make new year healthier

January 4, 2017

At the beginning of the new year, many Sun Devils renew their focus on health and wellness. Arizona State University benefits-eligible employees may improve their health at little or no cost this new year. Whether committing to a new healthy path or continuing to be healthy and active, there is something for everyone.

Classes and screenings address physical, mental and emotional health. Classes are held during lunch on all campuses, and morning mini health screenings offer immediate results. View and sign up for classes. Sign up to receive monthly email updates about wellness on your campus. Employees discuss wellness screenings and classes From left: Jillian McManus, senior director of Organizational Health and Development; Joe Beuther, Parking and Transit Services office specialist; Liz Badalamenti, Employee Wellness program manager; and Tom Dobrick, Fulton Schools of Engineering HR specialist, meet to discuss upcoming health screenings and classes. Beuther and Dobrick have both benefitted from the Employee Wellness program. Download Full Image

Three ASU employees took advantage of these benefits and made healthier choices that positively impacted their lives.

Health education can change your life

For Joe Beuther, a Parking and Transit Services office specialist, attending a screening was a wake-up call. Four years ago, Joe was unhealthy and unhappy. After attending a mini health screening, Joe lost more than 100 pounds and has a new outlook on life. Beuther attributes what he calls a “miracle” to getting healthy in all aspects of his life.

“I’ll never be 21 years old again, but I can do things now that I couldn’t do four years ago,” Beuther said. “The encouragement and support of the wellness office had a positive impact on my life, and I’m much easier to be around these days.” 

Liz Badalamenti, ASU Employee Wellness program manager, said Beuther’s numbers keep getting better.

“The screenings are an easy way to regularly track your health and wellness so you know when adjustments are needed,” Badalamenti said.

Tom Dobrick, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering HR specialist, first participated in a regularly scheduled mini health screening three years ago and improved over time. He was impressed with the compassionate, educated staff members.

“The first screening I attended was easy to schedule, available on campus, well-organized and took a minimal amount of time,” he said. “I encourage even those who think they’re healthy to take advantage of this service.”

Employees like Delia Saenz, psychology associate professor, participate in screenings and classes as part of her healthy lifestyle.

“Attending the screenings and various classes supports my healthy lifestyle. I’ve learned skills for stress management, organizational skills and received motivation to stay on track,” she said. “I appreciate that the program is free, high-quality, conveniently located and there’s ongoing support.”

Saenz also participates in the Health Impact Program. The incentive-based program rewards benefits-eligible employees with as much as $200 when they participate in screenings or classes.

Classes include healthy eating, physical fitness and mental health. Whether cooking in or eating out, healthy eating can be fun and affordable. Employee fitness classes are abundant and diverse, and more classes are available at Sun Devil Fitness Centers. Mental and emotional health are all part of a healthy lifestyle.

A full listing of screenings and classes for ASU employees is available on ASU Events.

Christine Rizzi Tobin

Communications specialist, Office of Business and Finance