If the idea of an asteroid slamming into Earth keeps you up at night, saving a thought for a mission called NEOWISE, which reincarnated on forms astrophysics spacecraft to hunt for near-Earth space rocks. ] The spacecraft has just posted its fifth full year of data on asteroids and comets orbiting the sun near Earth. But scientists already know the mission won't last forever. They are thinking about what they should do next to make sure humans are caught unawares by solar systems that could wreak havoc on Earth. [NEOWISErecentlysurpassed95billionrecordedmeasurementsofasteroidscometsstarsandgalaxies-aremarkableaccomplishmentforarecycledspacecraft"LindleyJohnsonNASA'splanetarydefenseofficerandheadofthePlanetaryDefenseCoordinationOfficeatNASA said in a statement .
"This asteroid hunter has measured the sizes of more than 1
of space rocks pass in and out of Earth's neighborhood. But if scientists can watch them for a while, the researchers can calculate the orbital paths of these objects and determine whether they pose a risk to life on Earth.
There's just one problem: These objects are hard to see in visible light. "NEOs are intrinsically faint because they are mostly small and far away from us in space," Amy Mainzer, principal investigator of the NEOWISE mission and an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a separate statement . "Add to this fact that some of them are as dark as printer toner, and trying to spot them against the black of space is very hard." So, NEOWISE works by studying infrared light, in which asteroids and comets appear. bright. The mission has identified more than 300 previously unknown objects and has gathered a host of observations about space rocks originally spotted by other instruments.
All of that information provides the details that scientists need to feed their calculations. That way spot and asteroid that will pass a little too close for comfort, humans will have time to decide what would steer the space rock off course.
But it's not just about planetary defense; there's plenty of science to be done with this data as well. " These objects are intrinsically interesting because some are thought to be the original material that made up the solar system," Mainzer said. "One of the things that we have found is that NEOs are pretty diverse in composition."
Because of the multifaceted utility of the NEOWISE data, Mainzer and his colleagues are already designing a mission that could succeed. That Near-Earth Object Camera ( NEOCam ), would use a purpose-built telescope this time but follow the same principles as NEOWISE.