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June 28, 2021

UArizona Experts Available for Asteroid Day

TUCSON, Ariz. — University of Arizona experts are available to speak in advance of Asteroid Day on June 30.

Asteroid Day is a United Nations-sanctioned, annual global event held on the anniversary of the Siberian Tunguska event that took place on June 30, 1908 – the most harmful known asteroid-related event on Earth in recent history.

Asteroid Day aims to raise awareness about asteroids and what can be done to protect the Earth from a catastrophic event. The day was co-founded by Stephen Hawking, filmmaker Grigorij Richters, B612 Foundation President Danica Remy, Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart and Brian May, an astrophysicist best known for being the guitarist for the band Queen.

UArizona is a leading institution in the study of asteroids, and the following experts are available to speak about various aspects of asteroid science.

Amy Mainzer, a professor of planetary sciences in the university's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, is principal investigator of NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission, or NEOWISE. In that role, Mainzer oversees the largest space-based asteroid-hunting project in history, which has resulted in the detection and characterization of an unprecedented number of asteroids and comets, including objects that could potentially pose a hazard to Earth. NASA has also tasked Mainzer with leading NEO Surveyor, another mission to find, track and characterize yet unseen asteroids and comets that may pose a threat to Earth.

Tom Zega, a professor of planetary sciences in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, applies a microscopy- and microanalysis-based approach to study the chemical and physical evolution of the early solar system and ancient stars. His efforts are focused on the origin of the grains that formed in ancient stars, the first solar-system solids and primitive organic compounds. Knowledge of these details of planetary materials provides new insight into the origin of our solar system.

Vishnu Reddy is an associate professor of planetary sciences in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. As the orbital space around the Earth becomes increasingly congested, contested and competitive, Reddy's work focuses on understanding the behavior of natural and artificial space objects using a range of Earth- and space-based instruments. He also works on impact hazard assessment and mitigation of near-Earth objects, as well as issues surrounding asteroid mining.

Eric Christensen, a research scientist and senior staff scientist with the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, is the director of the Catalina Sky Survey, a longstanding program dedicated to discovering and tracking near-Earth objects, or NEOs. The year 2020 was a record year for NEO discoveries led by the Catalina Sky Survey. About half of all newly discovered NEOs each year have been found by the survey, and together with NASA's Spacewatch program, its discoveries account for more than half of the known NEO catalog.

Jekan Thanga, an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, specializes in miniature satellites known as CubeSats, as well as robots and field sensor networks for exploring space, including the surfaces of asteroids. In 2019, he received $3 million from NASA to research the low-gravity surface environments of asteroids using asteroid simulation laboratories in low-Earth orbit. He is the head of the university's Space and Terrestrial Robotic Exploration, or SpaceTREx, Laboratory and the NASA-supported ASTEROIDS (Asteroid Science, Technology and Exploration Research Organized by Inclusive eDucation Systems) Laboratory.

Dante Lauretta, a professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, is principal investigator of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, the first U.S. mission to carry a sample from an asteroid back to Earth. The sample collected from asteroid Bennu is the largest sample to be returned from space since the Apollo Moon landings. Lauretta will not be available for media interviews, but he is scheduled to provide an update on the OSIRIS-REx mission during Asteroid Day LIVE 2021, a livestream event on June 30 at 10 a.m. (MST).

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Media contact:
Daniel Stolte
University Communications

The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top 40 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the university is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university ranked in the top 20 in 2019 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $734 million in annual research expenditures. The university advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 66 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually. For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university's COVID-19 webpage.


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