Amateur astronomers are needed to help asteroids select the European Space Agency to study as part of a future mission to ward off murderous space rocks.
The recently confirmed Hera mission will be launched in 2024 and will study the effect of NASA & # 39; s 2021 DART spacecraft when it hits a distant asteroid.
The findings will help experts refine the asteroid deflection techniques being developed to save the Earth from a hypothetical apocalyptic impact.
Before it reaches the target asteroid, however, Hera has the opportunity to study similar agencies along the way – with experts presenting a shortlist of seven candidates.
Senior mission consultant Alan Fitzsimmons has called on amateur astronomers to help these seven asteroids study in more detail to determine which Hera should fly by.
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Amateur astronomers are needed to help asteroids select the European Space Agency to study as part of a future mission to ward off murderous space rocks
& # 39; We will one day get a severe asteroid impact & # 39 ;, said professor Fitzsimmons, from Queens University Belfast, BBC.
& # 39; It may not be in our lives, but mother nature determines when that will happen. We will have to do something about it. We have to move that asteroid so that it misses us and doesn't hit us. & # 39;
Efforts are already underway to explore this possibility with NASA & # 39; s DART spacecraft – shortly before & # 39; Double Asteroid Impact Test & # 39; – to launch in 2021 and travel to the two asteroids Didymos orbiting the Earth and Mars.
At a speed of 6.6 kilometers per second, the DART will hit the smaller of the two asteroids, with the impact recorded by its small corresponding satellite – the Light Italian CubeSat for imaging of asteroids or LICIACube.
A third spacecraft, Hera from the European Space Agency, will then examine the impact site and collect data on the impact of the collision on the trajectory of the asteroid.
Hera is expected to start in 2024 – the mission was given the green light last week by European space ministers at the Space19 + ministerial conference held in Madrid, Spain.
Testing the potential to divert asteroids from their course is already underway, with NASA & # 39; s DART spacecraft – shortly before & # 39; Double Asteroid Impact Test & # 39; – Launch in 2021 and travel to the two Didymos asteroids that orbit Earth and Mars
Hera will also deploy two CubeSats that will perform Didymos close-up surveys, along with a radar probe – the first ever performed with an asteroid.
This information can then be used to refine the deflection technique in the event of a real asteroid threat.
"That's why Hera is so important – it's our test to see if we can shift an asteroid so it doesn't hit the earth," Professor Fitzsimmons told the BBC.
& # 39; We can do as many calculations as we want and we've done it on paper, but until you try and check your calculations, you don't know if you're going to succeed or not. & # 39;
& # 39; We are just happy that we can go there now and discover how we can deflect asteroids in the future. & # 39;
After NASA's DART spacecraft has hit the smaller of Didymos asteroids, ESA's Hera vehicle, pictured on the right, will investigate the impact of the collision in combination with two smaller CubeSat probes that close up the body to carry out
Before it reaches Didymos, however, there is the possibility that Hera could fly similar asteroids en route – providing additional information about these cosmic bodies that could also help in future efforts to defend the impact.
However, the question remains which of the seven potential asteroid expert experts from the European Space Operations Center have suggested that Hera should be entrusted with a closer look.
& # 39; The flyby candidates we have identified so far are no more than small bright spots in the sky, so weak that they are invisible to the naked eye & # 39 ;, Professor Fitzsimmons said the North Edinburgh News.
& # 39; We need as much help as possible to refine their jobs and measure their properties, which can provide clues about their characteristics prior to the launch of Hera in October 2024. & # 39;
& # 39; Only three of these bodies have known diameters and albedos, or surface brightness. And none of them knows rotation periods. & # 39;
& # 39; This is something that experienced amateurs can try to measure for us, especially for the brighter objects. & # 39;
By limiting these traits, experts were able to determine which Hera could possibly pass while traveling to Didymos.
& # 39; For an asteroid of 2–5 kilometers (1–3 miles) with the main Asteroid Framing Camera from Hera, we would aim for a flight distance of 500 kilometers (311 miles) & # 39 ;, said Hera project scientist Michael Küppers to North Edinburgh News.
& # 39; But getting close without real flybys is still useful, because they allow asteroid observations from angles that are not feasible from Earth. & # 39;
& # 39; Asteroid research is an area of astronomy where amateur observations continue to make an essential contribution & # 39 ;, Proffesor Fitzsimmons told the BBC.
& # 39; There are many in Ireland, the UK, Europe and around the world that regularly follow asteroids and even measure how their brightness changes over time. & # 39;
& # 39; That is what we are looking for – these advanced amateurs. & # 39;
IS EARTH SUITABLE FOR A GREAT ASTEROID IMPACT?
Researchers have discovered most of the asteroids that are about a kilometer in size, but are now hunting for those of about 140 meters – because they can cause catastrophic damage.
Although no one knows when the next major impact will occur, scientists are under pressure to predict – and intercept – its arrival.
Artist & # 39; s impression shown
& # 39; Sooner or later we will have … a small or large impact, "said Rolf Densing, head of the European Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt
It may not happen in our lives, he said, but & # 39; the risk that the earth will ever be struck in a devastating event is very high. & # 39;
& # 39; For now, there is little we can do. & # 39;
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