NASA is rushing to launch its NEOcam infrared space telescope, an asteroid-detecting technology that will help spot asteroids that threaten to hit Earth, as it is a question of when, not if, an asteroid will hit us.
All the near-Earth asteroids larger than 1 km across are being held under observation by NASA and a law was recently passed requiring NASA to find 90% of asteroids larger than 140 meters in diameter by 2020. If any one of these asteroids is a danger to life on Earth, sending a spacecraft to intercept it would require a 10-year warning.
“I don’t lose sleep over the risk of an undiscovered asteroid impacting the Earth because the chances are small, but they are not zero. We have the capability, the adult responsibility, to simply know what’s out there. And NEOCam is basically ready to go,” said Professor Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
NEOcam is the latest asteroid-detecting technology that NASA plans to launch
In 2024, another space probe called IMAP will launch to study the solar wind, heading for the orbit that is also ideal for NEOCam. Researchers say it is the best opportunity to launch NEOCam. In order to prepare the telescope in time, Nasa will require urgent approval and funding.
By 2023, another important source on near-Earth asteroid data will be the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which will begin a 10-year survey repeatedly capturing wide-scale images of the night sky. The LSST will help find the majority of asteroids under 40 meters diameter, but to reach maximum efficiency, NEOCam’s infrared observations are required.
“I don’t think anyone appreciates how hectic the early part of the LSST Survey will be when we begin to see everything that is out there. A 10-meter object passes inside the Moon’s orbit every week – and we will start seeing years and years-worth of these ‘incoming’ objects well in advance of their close approach. The early orbit solutions won’t be able to distinguish ‘hit or miss.’ We will need to concentrate our attention on the largest objects in that incoming flux—and we need the infrared characterization to sort that out,” Professor Binzel said.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.