More amateurs will help track near-Earth asteroids thanks to an agreement between Nasa and the Slooh robotic telescope network.
The world’s asteroid search programs have identified almost 11,000 near-Earth asteroids, several thousand of them potentially hazardous objects that cross Earth’s orbit. Professional sky surveys account for almost all of the asteroid discoveries. They are less suited, however, for the dozens of follow-up observations needed to define the asteroid’s size and orbit. Professional observatories and astronomers can’t afford the time that these observations require.
Amateur astronomers already play a crucial role by making follow-up observations and reporting them to the Minor Planet Center, the central clearing house for the world's professional and amateur asteroid observations. As programs like Nasa's Asteroid Initiative accelerate the rate of asteroid discovery, the volume of follow-up observations will keep growing. Getting more amateurs involved in the search program is tricky since most people don’t have easy access to high-quality equipment and places with clear, dark skies.
“Amateur astronomers with access to pro-level telescopes under dark skies are in a great position to learn more about an asteroid than just where it's going,” said the Minor Planet Center's Dr. Jose Luis Galache.
Slooh operates a network of 5 high-quality telescopes at mountaintop observatories in Chile and the Canary Islands right next to large professional observatories. The clear, dark skies above these sites provide excellent conditions for capturing images of objects in space. Slooh members pay for observing time on the telescopes, pointing the telescopes, and getting data.
“NASA understands the importance of citizen science, and knows that a good way to get amateur astronomers involved is to offer them ways to do productive astronomy," said Slooh CEO Michael Paulucci.
Under the Space Act Agreement Slooh will add another 10 telescopes to its site in the Canary Islands. Nasa and Slooh will train amateur astronomers to conduct asteroid follow-up observations. Nasa’s Jason Kessler said that the space agency is “excited by the opportunity to tap into Slooh’s network of amateur astronomers, who are already producing scientific papers with their work.”
(via Universe Today)