Jeff Regester, High Point University instructor of physics and astronomy, and David Vestal, HPU sophomore and student researcher, were selected by NASA and the Southwest Research Institute to participate in an expedition in northern Australia to collect astronomical observations in support of Lucy, a NASA probe that is currently under construction and due to be launched in 2021.
NASA’s Lucy mission will be the first of its kind to explore the Trojan asteroids, which orbit the Sun at a distance of Jupiter. One of the asteroids Lucy will visit is called Orus. Tonight, Regester and Vestal will join nearly 25 other researchers to view Orus, which is scheduled to pass directly in front of a distant star at 11:06 p.m. local time. The exact timing of this occultation, both when it happens and how long it lasts, will reveal the size, shape, and reflectivity of Orus, and allow its orbital path to be determined to extreme precision, all of which are crucial to the success of Lucy's mission.
As the only student from the United States on the expedition, Vestal is gaining valuable real-world astronomical research experience that is typically only available to highly-regarded scientists and astronomers.
In addition to the occultation preparations, Regester and Vestal joined Tom Statler, planetary science program scientist at NASA, and Anne Verbiscer, research professor at the University of Virginia, to conduct a public outreach presentation about Lucy and the expedition at a library in downtown Darwin.