NASA com­pletes first as­ter­oid track­ing test

The East African - - OUTLOOK - By A CORRESPONDENT Xin­hua News Agency

AN IN­TER­NA­TIONAL team of astronomers has suc­cess­fully com­pleted the first in­ter­na­tional drill us­ing a real as­ter­oid to test global re­sponse ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The tar­get of the ex­er­cise was as­ter­oid 2012 TC4, an elon­gated rock about 15 me­tres long and roughly eight me­tres wide, which was known to be ap­proach­ing the earth.

The goal of the “TC4 Ob­ser­va­tion Cam­paign,” launched in April un­der the spon­sor­ship of the US Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion (Nasa) plan­e­tary de­fence co-or­di­na­tion of­fice, is to re­cover, track and char­ac­terise a real as­ter­oid as a po­ten­tial im­pactor, and to test the In­ter­na­tional As­ter­oid Warn­ing Net­work for haz­ardous as­ter­oid ob­ser­va­tions, mod­el­ling, pre­dic­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

The ex­er­cise started in earnest in late July, when the Euro­pean South­ern Ob­ser­va­tory’s Very Large Tele­scope re­cov­ered the as­ter­oid. The fi­nale was a close ap­proach to Earth in mid Oc­to­ber.

On Oc­to­ber 12, TC4 safely passed earth at a dis­tance of only about 43,780 kilo­me­tres above planet’s sur­face.

Track­ing TC4

In the months lead­ing up to the flyby, the in­ter­na­tional team of astronomers from the US, Canada, Colombia, Ger­many, Is­rael, Italy, Ja­pan the Netherlands, Rus­sia and South Africa led by NASA sci­en­tists all tracked TC4 from ground — and used space-based tele­scopes to study its or­bit, shape, ro­ta­tion and com­po­si­tion.

The ob­ser­va­tions that re­vealed the shape and con­firmed the com­po­si­tion of the as­ter­oid came from astronomers us­ing Nasa’s Gold­stone Deep Space Net­work an­tenna in Cal­i­for­nia, and the Na­tional Ra­dio As­tron­omy Ob­ser­va­tory’s 100-me­tre Green Bank Tele­scope in West Vir­ginia — both in the US — ac­cord­ing to Nasa.

“We demon­strated that we could or­gan­ise a large, world­wide ob­ser­va­tion cam­paign on a short time­line, and com­mu­ni­cate re­sults ef­fi­ciently,” said Vishnu Reddy of the Univer­sity of Ari­zona’s Lu­nar and Plan­e­tary Laboratory in Tuc­son, who led the ob­ser­va­tion cam­paign.

Michael Kel­ley, TC4 ex­er­cise lead at Nasa head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, said, “We are much bet­ter pre­pared today to deal with the threat of a po­ten­tially haz­ardous as­ter­oid than we were be­fore the TC4 cam­paign.”

Pic­ture: AFP

A Nasa graphic de­picts the Earth flyby of as­ter­oid 2012DA14 in 2013.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kenya

© PressReader. All rights reserved.