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NASA will build and fly an observatory to look for killer asteroids

28 Jan 2020, 14:00 UTC
NASA will build and fly an observatory to look for killer asteroids
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It looks like NASA is finally starting to take the threat from asteroid and comet impacts seriously: In September the space agency announced it wants to build and launch a telescope designed specifically to look for Near-Earth Objects (NEOs)! And, in November, the team that will design and build the mission had their first meeting to begin the work needed to get the go-ahead from NASA to start the preliminary design of the spacecraft and its observatory. That's very exciting and very welcome news.

Congress told NASA back in 2005 that they need to find and track 90% of all NEOs larger than 140 meters across (big enough to create regional damage in an impact) by 2020. That is literally impossible now; various issues have delayed this mandate's completion.

That's why this announcement is so cool. NASA wants to build a space-based observatory that can see in infrared (or IR) light, because asteroids warmed by the Sun glow brightly at those wavelengths. Most asteroids are incredibly dark in visible light, reflecting just 4% or so of the light that hits them — as dark as asphalt, or a blackboard. That makes them hard to spot! But they glow in the ...

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