This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

22 March 2010

Help WISE Find Asteroids

How to help the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft follow-up on potential asteroids/comets it has detected. Selected Q/A from the WISE Spacecraft website...

Q: I thought WISE was going to find all these asteroids?

A: WISE will make initial observations of hundreds of NEOs and tens of thousands of Main Belt asteroids, but because it orbits the Earth over the day-night terminator and always looks up, WISE will only observe each asteroid approximately 10 times over about 30 hours.  Without more observations within about 10-14 days, all of the new NEOs and PHAs WISE finds will be lost.
Q: When an asteroid is lost, where does it go?

A: Well, it doesn't really 'go' anywhere.  Asteroids (just like planets andcomets) orbit the Sun, which makes them move when compared to the background stars.  From many observations over weeks, months, and years we can calculate a very accurate orbit for the asteroids that will allow us to find them again anytime in the future.  But if we only have a short window over which we observe the object (like the observations WISE will make) then the orbits are more uncertain, and if we wait too long we won't be able to find them again.  The asteroids are still there in space orbiting the Sun, but we don't know where.  That's why we need ground-based observers' help to nail down the orbits.
Q: So how can I help?

A: It's easy! All you need to do is look up WISE NEOs on the Minor Planet Center's NEO confirmation page (, download their predicted positions and errors, and start observing them.  In particular, you'll need to measure the position of the object on the sky, called its astrometry.  You'll also find an estimate of each object's brightness at optical wavelengths, called its visual magnitude.  This tells you whether or not the object will be bright enough to see with your telescope, and how long an exposure time you will need.

Link: WISE Mission Site (Science: Asteroids)

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