New telescope to examine space for asteroids that may hit earth

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On the morning of 15 February 2013, an asteroid exploded 97,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. People in Russia could see a bright fireball approaching its skies. The explosion resulted in a lot of damage- thousands of buildings were affected and about 1500 people were injured in Chelyabinsk. It was extremely dangerous and alarming that nobody knew about the asteroid that was about to hit the Earth’s atmosphere until the morning of the explosion. According to Michael B. Lund, a post-doctoral researcher at Department of Physics & Astronomy, Vanderbilt University, and also the author of the study, he wanted to figure out how he could design better and efficient telescopes to monitor even the smallest changes in the sky.

It is important that such telescopes are developed because then it will be easier to know in advance about the asteroids that might collide with Earth. A meteor is a chunk of extra-terrestrial body and before hitting the Earth’s surface, the Chelyabinsk meteor was orbiting the sun. Usually, asteroids are found in the Asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter but there a lot of asteroids in the solar system and those who are near earth called near-Earth objects (NEOs). There is a group of NEOs called the Apollo asteroids, it is likely that Chelyabinsk meteor belonged to that group. These asteroids are considered potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) and can cause severe damage in the regions where they might explode.

Lund, along with an international team of scientists are currently working on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in Chile which will help scientists get ready for the PHAs that might reach the Earth’s surface in the future. The project has received a major funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and scientists will be observing the sky for potential meteors that might approach Earth. The telescope will enable the scientists to get more data on the asteroid’s orbit and predict its trajectory and while one cannot do a lot in the face of an asteroid collision but warnings can be issued before the collision to prevent accidents and loss of life.

The report was originally written by Michael B. Lund, a post-doctoral researcher at Department of Physics & Astronomy, Vanderbilt University, for the Conversation UK.

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