NASA's new asteroid-hunting telescope is made to protect Earth from disaster
NASA has begun work on an asteroid-hunting telescope to protect Earth from disaster.
NEO Surveyor is a new space telescope made to advance NASA’s planetary defense efforts by finding near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that make their way into Earth’s orbital neighborhood and are capable of causing significant damage.
NASA said in a statement last month that the telescope is designed to discover 90% of asteroids and comets that are 460 feet in size or larger and come within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.
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When will the NEO Surveyor telescope be ready?
The telescope is transitioning into the final design and fabrication phase and establishing its technical, cost, and schedule baseline, NASA said in a statement last month.
The telescope, set to launch no earlier than June 2028, will be able to find NEOs within a decade of launch.
Are we threatened by asteroids?
According to NASA, no known NEO poses a significant risk of impacting Earth in the next 100 years, but unknown NEOs could.
“Ground-based telescopes remain essential for us to continually watch the skies, but a space-based infrared observatory is the ultimate high ground that will enable NASA’s planetary defense strategy,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer.
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In 2013, a house-sized asteroid blew apart over Chelyabinsk, Russia, just 14 miles above the ground, generating the energy equivalent of around 440,000 tons of TNT and a shock wave that stretched over 200 square miles, left over 1,600 people injured, blew out windows and damaged buildings.
“The Chelyabinsk event drew widespread attention to what more needs to be done to detect even larger asteroids before they strike our planet,” Johnson said. “This was a cosmic wake-up call.”
The mission will also provide further insight into the origins and evolution of asteroids and comets, which formed the ancient building blocks of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago, according to NASA.
Now that NASA can deflect asteroids, it needs to find them
In September, NASA crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid, marking a win for the agency's plan in case a devastating asteroid collision should ever threaten humanity.
The 1,260-pound Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft, or DART, collided with the estimated 11-billion-pound, 520-foot-long asteroid Dimorphos at 14,000 mph about 7 million miles from Earth. The spacecraft hit about 55 feet from the asteroid's center.
“For the first time in our planet’s history, Earth’s inhabitants are developing methods to protect Earth by deflecting hazardous asteroids,” said Amy Mainzer, the mission’s survey director at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “But before we can deflect them, we first need to find them. NEO Surveyor will be a game changer in that effort.”
Unlike its predecessor mission which ended in 2011, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or NEOWISE, NEO Surveyor is the first to be built specifically for finding large numbers of hazardous asteroids and comets.
How will NEO Surveyor journey through space?
During a five-year primary mission, NEO Surveyor will travel millions of miles to track the near-Earth objects that are most challenging to find.
The spacecraft will find Earth Trojans – asteroids that are typically obscured by glare with instruments that detect objects that glow in infrared wavelengths when heated by sunlight.
The spacecraft will begin by flying to the L1 Lagrange region between Earth and the sun. From there, it will enter gravitational orbit and journey through the solar system.
Camille Fine is a trending visual producer on USA TODAY's NOW team.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NASA begins work on NEO Surveyor asteroid-hunting space telescope