ESA Expands International Efforts to Protect Earth from Asteroids

For years, the European Space Agency (ESA) has been dedicated to detecting and monitoring any space object that comes dangerously close to Earth, such as asteroids. And this past Sunday (64), ESA inaugurated its newest Planetary Defense Office which , in addition to building new terrestrial telescopes for this purpose, will strengthen international work aimed at space missions to protect the planet. (or misses ugly) about asteroids coming our way?

  • Europe is destroyed by asteroid impact in this simulation made by NASA
  • After all, what defines a space object as “close” to Earth?
  • Since , when ESA inaugurated its National Security program, Planetary Defenders worked on building state-of-the-art ground-based telescopes for the purpose to monitor the skies for objects near the planet. However, when it comes to planetary defense, a global effort is needed. The Near Earth Objects Coordination Center (NEOCC) arrives as a tool for international cooperation.

    NEOCC office, based in Frascati, Italy (Image: Reproduction/ESA)

    ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher explained that the NEOCC is in regular contact with all the major organizations concerned with monitoring asteroids, from NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office to UN-supported committees dedicated to coordinating this global effort. “NEOCC shows that Europe and ESA, in particular, can bring something substantial and indispensable to the table,” added Aschbacher.

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    NEOCC will also gather the data acquired by ESA’s Flyeye telescopes, currently under development in Chile, for the observation of small near-Earth asteroids. Acting Chief of the Cabinet, Detlef Koschny, stressed that the center will act as a “Russian roulette”, classifying asteroids according to their chances of impact, as well as the groupings of all observations of these objects to more accurately trace their orbits.

    Artistic conception of the future Flyeye Observatory (Image: Reproduction/ESA)

    The wealth of data about a space object is critical to determining its trajectory in the Solar System and thus determining whether its path will cross Earth’s. According to the NEOCC manager, Lucas Conversi, “as almost always happens, the more we understand the path of an object, the more certain we are that it will not reach the Earth”. In addition, Conversi added that the planet must be prepared for an imminent impact scenario.

    The center will establish an information network on asteroid orbits, monitoring of possible impacts, risk analysis , as well as mitigation measures in the event of an unavoidable impact.

    This montage reveals the relative sizes of some known asteroids, some of which may be the target of future missions ( Image: Reproduction/ESA)

    In addition to working next to the offices of monitoring NASA, ESA is part of two organizations supported by the UN: the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) — coordinated by the US agency — and the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG), whose objective is to prepare responses to future threats. The European agency also has an agreement with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to use the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in tracking asteroids. It is also worth mentioning that the ESA office is made up of 15 people, half of whom work in NEOCC and the rest in other units of the European agency, based in the Netherlands, Germany and Spain.

    Missions with the purpose of de-orbiting potentially dangerous asteroids are possible, but take a long time until they come true. Therefore, it is essential to predict the behavior of these objects. Usually, it’s the medium-sized ones that hit the Earth and, even if they don’t reach the ground, they can create huge explosions as they travel through the atmosphere, destroying local buildings and infrastructure. In any case, ESA works tirelessly to avoid any catastrophic scenario.

    Source: ESA

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