NASA NEOWISE Telescope Finds Potentially Hazardous Asteroid


A new asteroid has been tracked down by the NEOWISE telescope operated by NASA that poses a potential hazard to the Earth. Named 2013 YP139, the asteroid is 43 million kilometers away from the Earth and has a diameter of 0.4 miles. It will not get any closer for the next 100 years, but when it does draw near the Earth, it will come within approximately 300,000 miles. According to scientists, the asteroid should miss Earth and fly by without causing any harm to the blue planet.

The telescope, called Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or the NEOWISE, was put into hibernation in 2011 but was resurrected in September of last year. Earlier it had a cryo-cooled telescope which worked fine until it ran out of hydrogen. After that, it floated around the orbit at a distance of 525 km above the Earth’s surface.

Its job is to find black holes, asteroids, comets, and many such celestial bodies for analysis and research purposes. The characterizing of imminent asteroids from space is a necessary activity because it identifies hazardous celestial bodies. The telescope uses infrared sensors and infrared-imaging to procure information about cosmic bodies.

NEOWISE is not a novice in such discoveries. It found more than 34,000 asteroids before the hibernation period in 2011. It scans space with a static background and tries to lock onto any sort of movements or disruptions. After a disruption is detected, the real analysis starts.

For 31 months the telescope was inactive and was known as the WISE Space Telescope. Since then, it has revolved around the solar-synchronous orbit in a restful state. It used to tabulate data on the dim objects of distant galaxies, but came back as an asteroid locator in 2013 to help track down a hazardous celestial body.

NASA estimates any asteroid with more than 0.5 mile of diameter can cause worldwide consequences. Although asteroid 2013 YP139 has a diameter of only 0.4 miles, it can still cause significant damage to Earth. There is no need to panic when considering the “potentially hazardous” objects in space. The NEOWISE telescope did find something which will give enough information for research to the NASA scientists for clear warning of such asteroids should they appear to draw close enough to impact the planet.

There can be millions of celestial bodies headed toward the Earth at a single point of time, but enhanced imagery through infra-red technology has made the work of the locating and tracking these objects via satellites easier. The heat sensing technique can point out the dimensions of the asteroids, which in turn helps to analyze the composition of the structure.

Amy Mainzer, who is a member of the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, commented that with the help of specialized sensors reflectiveness and size of a celestial body can be calculated. “We are delighted to get back to finding and characterizing.” The heavenly bodies which come close to the orbit of the Earth should be tracked as early as possible so that the researchers can analyze the data and figure out the trajectory. Hence, it is important to put in place such powerful telescopes which can be of help in this scenario.

With the NASA NEOWISE Telescope in operation locating potentially hazardous asteroids, there is little need to worry about doomsday. The telescope and the scientists working with the data it supplies should keep the planet well-informed of any cosmic objects that get close enough to pose a danger to the planet.

By Sunando Basu

Huffington Post


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