NASA has been asking a lot of the community since its budget has been cut. There are lots of little projects that are getting farmed out, like moving astronauts to and from space, and, more recently, asking for help on tracking, funding and deflecting near earth objects (NEOs). With asteroids getting so close to earth, NASA is planning on turing WISE back on.
We celebrated our 10,000th NEO passing the earth this year, the NEO was discovered by a telescope in Hawaii. Yet, there are many many more objects out there. One such object came very close, although it did not enter our atmosphere, it did come between us and the moon.
On Friday Sept. 13, scientists at the Mount Lemmon Survey, at the University of Arizona, found 2013 RZ53. This same body was seen 34 more times through Monday Sept. 16, as reported by the Minor Planet Center. 2013 RZ53 is thought to be a part of the Apollo family of NEOs, the same group that spawned the Chelyabinsk meteor which landed near Chelyabinsk, Russia back in Feb. While 2013 RZ53 was about 3 to 10 feet in diameter, the Chelyabinsk meteor had a diameter of about 55 to 66 feet, it zoomed by about 151,000 miles away from Earth. Even though this particular asteroid has not set NASA moving, it highlights the point of NEOs and is why NASA is turning WISE back on.
While NASA has been concerned about NEOs like Chelyabinsk and others, they have not had the resources to devote to it as they would like. NASA still has the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), but it has been offline after completing its original mission in February 2011. NASA engineers are going to attempt to bring WISE back online in order to get more information about NEOs in our solar system. Thus, continuing to use resources they already have in place.
WISE, which was originally launched in December 2009, was dispatched with a 16 inch telescope and infrared cameras. The original mission was to gather more detailed information about NEOs. While one can find NEOs with a telescope and visible light, it can be deceptive whether or not you are looking at a small object or a much larger object in shadow. Which was why WISE was equipped with infrared cameras in order to get a much better, and more detailed, picture of the NEOs in our space.
With the information WISE was able to gather, scientist have been able to observe some 158,000 rocky bodies out of perhaps 600,000 known objects. Among objects discovered are 21 comets, over 34,000 asteroids in the space between Mars and Jupiter, and 135 near Earth objects. During operation, WISE was able to take more than 2.7 million images in many infrared wavelengths and was able to inventory more than 560 million space objects, from galaxies to comets, asteroids to much closer NEOs.
While WISE is one tool at NASA’s disposal, the Space Agency has still announced the “Asteroid Grand Challenge” at this year’s Maker Faire this past June. This marks the first time NASA has reached out to academia, industry, and stakeholder organizations to private citizens for ideas on how we can find, track, and, possibly, redirect incoming asteroids.
With objects like 2013 RZ53 coming so close to Earth, relatively speaking, the need to have a better system in place to track these objects seems like a very good idea. How that will play out as NASA reaches out to the community remains to be seen. Yet, with NASA turning WISE back on and gathering more information on NEOs, we may be provided with a clearer picture of asteroids that are getting close to earth.
Written by: Iam Bloom