Thermal and Physical Characterization of the OSIRIS-REx Target Asteroid (101955) 1999 RQ36

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Publication Title

American Astronomical Society, Department of Planetary Sciences


The OSIRIS-REx mission, the third in NASA’s New Frontier line, will launch in 2016, visit the near-Earth asteroid (101955) 1999 RQ36, and return samples of its regolith to Earth in 2023. Ground-based observations have already revealed a great deal about 1999 RQ36, including the spectral type (B-type), size, and rotation period. To further characterize the composition, surface grain size, and thermophysical properties, we observed 1999 RQ36 with the Spitzer Space Telescope during the time period 3-9 May 2007. Thermal spectra from 5.2 to 38 μm were measured with the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) of opposite hemispheres of the body. Photometry at 3.6, 4.5, 5.8, and 8.0 μm was obtained with the Infrared Array Camera and at 16 and 22 μm with the IRS peak-up imaging mode. With the imaging modes, we targeted 10 equally distributed longitudes in order to search for rotational heterogeneities. The thermal inertia derived from the model fit is 600 +/- 150 J m-2s-1/2K-1. This moderately high thermal inertia suggests a regolith with grains less than 2 cm in diameter. Thermal inertia an important parameter for estimating the strength of the Yarkovsky effect, and has been used with measurements of the semi-major axis drift rate to estimate the bulk density of 1999 RQ36 (Chesley et al. 2012). The inferred size of RQ36 is in excellent agreement with radar observations, and the geometric albedo is very low (pv 0.03). There is no evidence for spectral features larger than the noise (S/N 40) in the final spectrum. The imaging data show no evidence for dust around the asteroid. Additional observations with Spitzer are planned for September 2012. We will present the current results and new observations along with an analysis of the thermal lightcurve in the context of the shape model derived from radar data.