Sunlight Has Changed the Path of Asteroid 1999 RQ36

Scientists with the OSIRIS-REx mission have measure the orbit of the asteroid 1999 RQ36 with such accuracy that they were able to determine the drift it experiences after absorbing sunlight and re-emitting the energy as heat.

The target asteroid is about a third of a mile in diameter (575 meters). Credit: Illustration: NASA/GSFC/UA)
Scientists with the University of Arizona-led asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx have measured the orbit of their destination asteroid, 1999 RQ36, with such accuracy they were able to directly determine the drift resulting from a subtle but important force called the Yarkovsky effect -- the slight push created when the asteroid absorbs sunlight and re-emits that energy as heat.