A team of astronomers at the University of Arizona is getting ready for a subsequent phase of a projected NASA mission to make a space-based telescope capable of detecting asteroids and comets that create impact hazards to earth. If plans are approved, the Near-Earth Object surveillance Mission can launch a spacecraft, referred to as the neo-Surveyor, that may continuously collect infrared pictures of the sky for a minimum of 5 years.
The spacecraft can use highly sensitive heat-sensing cameras to observe the infrared glow from asteroids that are warm by the sun as they get near to Earth’s orbit. Near-Earth objects, or NEOs, are comets and asteroids that are nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the earth’s neighborhood.
While NASA has been tracking NEOs for over 20 years, the modern Surveyor would take planetary-defense efforts to the subsequent level.
This mission would answer a basic question: are there asteroids or comets out there which will cause damage to the planet over a subsequent century said Amy Mainzer, the survey director, and prof at the UA’s satellite and Planetary Laboratory.
This mission is the successor to NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or NEOWISE, that uses a reactivated spacecraft to seek out, track and characterize near-earth objects. The modern Surveyor can rest on the success of the NEOWISE mission, which is celebrating the 10th day of its launch Dec. 14.
We’ve learned a great deal from NEOWISE concerning what percentage asteroids are dark versus bright, and it’s been a valuable precursor mission, but it has now operated long past its expected life, Mainzer said.
“With the modern Surveyor spacecraft, we can use what we’ve learned from NEOWISE to make a more extremely capable and lasting spacecraft that may greatly complement the prevailing network of ground-based telescopes looking the skies for hazardous objects.”
The modern Surveyor, that can be launched as early as 2025, would survey the skies for a minimum of 5 years and catalog over 90th of asteroids larger than 460 feet. The spacecraft can permit astronomers to observe asteroids’ position, movement, size and even establish the composition of their surfaces.
In Nov, Mainzer and her team met at the UA to plan a subsequent phase of the project.
The next step is to produce the documentation and reviews necessary for NASA to approve a preliminary style section, that the team is hoping to start someday next year. Because the survey director, Mainzer would be liable for all aspects of mission success, with flight project management provided by the jet propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California
More than 1/2 all known potentially hazardous asteroids were discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey and Space watch telescopes operated by the University of Arizona over the past 20 years, said UA President Henry Martyn Robert C. Robbins.
We have a long tradition as a pioneer in planetary defense, and that we are proud to bring this history to subsequent level to assist shield our planet from impact hazards.
It is a good move by NASA to move the telescope out of its science funding portfolio, Harris adds. Planetary scientists have doubted NEOCam would yield important new research, a suspicion that likely derailed it in past competitions. That doesn’t make getting this data less worthwhile for society, however, Melosh says.
“It’s something that we really need to do,” he says. “It may not be absolutely the best science, but there’s more to life than scientific knowledge.”