Take a deep breath: A new space telescope may be able to detect potentially dangerous asteroids heading towards Earth.

Take a deep breath: A new space telescope may be able to detect potentially dangerous asteroids heading towards Earth.

A new space telescope is one step closer to becoming a reality, allowing scientists to see potentially dangerous asteroids and comets heading for Earth. NASA has given the green light for the Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope, also known as NEO Surveyor. The 20-foot-long infrared telescope would help astronomers identify asteroids and comets that are within 30 millimetres of Earth. The launch date for the mission is presently set for the first half of 2026. 

“NEO Surveyor will have the capability to rapidly accelerate NASA’s ability to discover asteroids and comets that could pose a threat to Earth, and it is being designed to discover 90% of asteroids 459 feet in size or larger within a decade of being launched,” said Mike Kelley, NEO Surveyor programme scientist. Wednesday is International Asteroid Day, which commemorates the Earth’s largest documented asteroid impact while also highlighting the real threat of asteroids colliding with the planet. In 1908, a massive asteroid collided with the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Russia’s far-flung Siberian wilderness. 

The catastrophe flattened trees and destroyed forests over an area of 770 square miles, roughly the size of three-quarters of the United States. Rhode Island is a state in the United States of America. People in a community 40 miles distant were thrown to the ground by the impact. It also explains why astronomers and the Asteroid Day organisation want people to be aware of the situation. NASA and other space organisations around the world are focusing their efforts on detecting the threat of near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that might cause serious devastation.

NASA achieved its objective of finding 90% of all near-Earth objects larger than 3,280 feet in size in 2010. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 2005 then instructed the government to discover 90% of NEOs larger than 459 feet. Astronomers can track potentially harmful NEOs thanks to their capacity to discover and describe them. For the next century, there are no known NEO impact hazards to Earth. Unknown NEOs, on the other hand, might have unexpected consequences, as the Chelyabinsk event in Russia demonstrated. Over Chelyabinsk, Russia, an asteroid enters Earth’s atmosphere in 2013. 

It burst in the air, unleashing 20 to 30 times the energy of the first atomic bombs, producing a brightness larger than the sun, emitting heat, and destroying over 7,000 buildings and injuring over 1,000 people. The shockwave shattered windows as far as 58 kilometres distant. Because the asteroid came from the same direction and course as the sun, it went undetected. The NEO Surveyor will utilise infrared sensors to aid astronomers in their search for these objects, including those that may approach Earth during the day from the sun’s direction. This isn’t something that ground-based observatories can do.

Aygen Marsh

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