|UND asteroid explorer Vishnu Reddy heads to Max Planck Institute for German Space Agency project|
Vishnu Reddy, a Ph.D. candidate in the UND Department of Earth System Science and Policy, heads to the famed Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Solar System Research this fall. MPI is named after Max Planck, an early 20th century physicist considered by most scientists to be the founder of quantum theory.
Reddy, well known in astronomical circles for his string of successes as an asteroid hunter, was invited by MPI asteroid spectroscopist Andreas Nathues to work on Germany’s ASTEX (asteroid exploration) mission.
“The Max Planck Institute invitation to Vishnu is additional recognition of the outstanding asteroid research carried out by the students and faculty here at UND,” said Michael Gaffey, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of space studies, world-renowned asteroid expert, and Reddy’s advisor. “UND is now one of the leading centers in the study of asteroids in general and near-Earth asteroids in particular. Our students—including Vishnu—play a major role in this effort.”
Reddy’s trip to the Max Planck Institute—located in Katlenburg-Lindau near Hanover, Germany—is a long-time wish fulfilled.
“Dr. Nathues approached me a few years ago at the Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference in Houston about my interest in working on the ASTEX spacecraft mission,” said Reddy, who recently presented an International Astronomical Union certificate to North Dakota Governor John Hoeven. Reddy discovered a new asteroid a couple of years ago and named it “North Dakota”; the IAU endorsed the name and issued the certificate.
The ASTEX mission was created by the German Space Agency to go to two near-Earth asteroids and conduct in situ and orbital investigations, said Reddy, whose research at UND involves discovering, characterizing, and classifying asteroids.
“My role in the mission proposal is to do ground-based characterization of their pool of mission target asteroids to find out their composition,” Reddy said. Understanding asteroids—which mostly circulate through the solar system in a belt between Mars and Jupiter—will go a long way to help us understand the origins of Earth.
“We started observing ASTEX mission targets last year with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Infra-red Telescope Facility (IRTF) which is located on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii,” Reddy said.
“While I am at the Max Planck Institute this fall, I plan to work on data from the European spacecraft mission Rosetta which has recently flown past the asteroid ‘Steins.’ I will be using the spacecraft and ground-based data to learn more about its composition,” Reddy said. “I will also be working on the ground-based spectral data on ASTEX targets that we acquired from IRTF. Dr Nathues is also on the NASA-led Dawn spacecraft mission to asteroid Vesta, so we’ll be working on issues related to that.”
Eventually, ASTEX research may lead to crewed exploratory space missions to larger asteroids.
-- Juan Pedraza, Writer/Editor, University Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-6571