Alum Gives University of Arizona $2M for Space Science

Following a $1 million donation from the same person last year, the new contribution will help the university analyze an asteroid sample and give students and faculty more time with the Giant Magellan Telescope project.

(TNS) — A $2 million gift from an anonymous University of Arizona alum is set to boost two of the school's ongoing space science initiatives, the school said.

Researches will use $1.5 million to analyze the asteroid sample being returned by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft mission led by NASA.

It will provide them tools that could help researchers "find answers to fundamental questions about the origins of the solar system," UA said.

In October, the spacecraft collected the sample from Bennu, an asteroid the agency estimates to be 1,600 feet wide and 4.5 billion years old.

It is NASA's first mission to collect samples from an asteroid and return them to Earth. The spacecraft is currently on a 1.4 billion-mile trip back to Earth.

The scheduled landing is set for Sept. 24, 2023, at the Utah Test and Training Range.

It will head to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston for initial processing before a sample analysis team at UA begins their work led by Dante Lauretta, professor of planetary sciences and principal investigator of OSIRIS-Rex.

"When donors step up to become partners in discovery, they empower those researchers to realize their potential and accelerate our progress," said Elliott Cheu, interim dean of the College of Science. "This remarkable gift ensures we can make the most of our team's knowledge and the sample so many have worked long and hard to retrieve."

The remaining amount will allow UA students and faculty to spend more time with the Giant Magellan Telescope project, the largest ground-based optical telescope in the world.

It follows a $1 million gift in 2020 from the same donor, UA said.

The school is a part of an international network of universities and science institutions funding the project with each institution's share of observation time tied to its financial stake.

In 2020, the school said it had already contributed $60 million to the project with nearly half of the funds coming from philanthropic gifts.

Construction on the GMT began in 2015 at the Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

The UA's Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory, known for creating the largest mirrors in the world for astronomy projects, fabricated the mirrors for the telescope measuring 83 feet in diameter.

"The GMT will open up the field of astronomy to discoveries that scientists have dreamed about for many years. We are proud to be part of an elite group of institutions that are helping to create such a magnificent instrument," Cheu said.

©2021 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.