[meteorite-list] UK Astronomers Chart Asteroid Threat
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Oct 28 12:43:38 2004
Astronomers chart asteroid threat
October 28, 2004
A team of astronomers has stepped up a project which one day could help
to preserve the Earth from annihilation.
The team from Queen's University in Belfast is monitoring asteroids in
space to see if they are on a collision course with our planet.
Their crucial data will be fed into an international programme for
protecting the Earth from any future impact.
On average 30 to 40 Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) - asteroids or comets on a
path to Earth - are discovered each month.
More than 3,000 NEOs have now been found so far.
Now a team of astronomers at Queen's will be tracking these objects each
week using large high-performance telescopes.
The UK Astrometry and Photometry Programme (UKAPP) for Near-Earth
Objects, based at the university, is using the Faulkes Telescope North,
which is physically located on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
At the end of this year they will also start using the twin Faulkes
Telescope South at Siding Spring, Australia.
The telescopes' mirror size of 2m allows astronomers to see fainter NEOs.
Dr Alan Fitzsimmons, Reader in Observational Astrophysics at the
university and the project's leader, told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster
that it was likely that the Earth would be hit by an asteroid.
"In fact, we know that an asteroid will hit us at some point in the future.
"Of course, these things are out there and they just randomly hit us
when the Earth gets in the way.
"However, generally it is not a 24-hour or even a 45-minute warning that
we get. It is normally timescales of years or even decades."
Dr Fitzsimmons said that his project was acting as an "early, early
warning system for the Earth".
He said that these long lead times gave scientists at the European Space
Agency time to develop a strategy for dealing with an asteroid on a
Any object smaller than 50 metres across will not usually make it
through the Earth's atmosphere intact so Dr Fitzsimmons is training his
telescope on asteroids which are 50 to 100 metres across or larger.
"We are looking at a series of asteroids two or three times a week now
with these telescopes in Hawaii and Australia," he said.
"There are 30 or 40 new objects discovered every month that we want to
keep an eye on.
"So we only concentrate on the ones that do pass particularly close to
us or are predicted to pass close in the next century or so."
Received on Thu 28 Oct 2004 12:43:34 PM PDT