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Sep 9, 2011 7:51 AM

UA leads the world in planetary education

TUCSON - Imagine an asteroid headed straight for Earth, creating an impact that could destroy mankind. It may sound like a plot from a hit movie, but local planetary researchers are doing work right now to prevent something like that from happening.

The University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab is taking on a big mission. It is called OSIRIS-REx, funded by NASA for $800-million dollars. But it is just one of many projects that make the U of A the number one educational institution in the world for planetary science.

They have been hard at work on OSIRIS-REx for about 8 years, and it was selected in May to be funded by NASA.

Professor Dante Lauretta says they also have a high rise camera that is taking the highest ever resolution pictures of the Martian surface. They are also continuously working their Catalina Sky Survey that looks out for hazardous asteroids.

Lauretta says all of these projects are helping Arizona's economy, and there is a reason Arizona is chosen for this work.

"Historically, Arizona has been a great place to observe the skies. We have a lot of high mountains and very dry air, so 50 years ago when people were looking for sites to build the world's best astronomical telescopes, they chose Arizona and the science grew up around that," Lauretta said.

And for a few weeks in September, NASA'S "Desert Rats" program is using Arizona to simulate an lunar expedition.

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