British astronomers are providing a vital component to the world-wide effort of identifying and monitoring rogue asteroids and comets. From this month, the UK Astrometry and Photometry Programme (UKAPP) for Near-Earth Objects, based at Queens University, Belfast, will track Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) and feed their crucial information into the international programme of protecting the Earth from any future impact by a comet or asteroid.
On average 30-40 NEOs are discovered each month - asteroids and comets that could one day collide with the Earth. Over 3000 NEOs have now been found, and a world-wide effort involving professional and amateur astronomers attempts to keep track of these objects. Now a team of astronomers at Queen’s University Belfast will be tracking these objects each week using large high-performance telescopes.
UKAPP is using the Faulkes Telescope North, a robotic telescope on the Hawaiian island of Maui built primarily for educational use by the Faulkes Telescope Project. At the end of this year they will also start using the twin Faulkes Telescope South at Siding Spring, Australia. The telescopes’ mirror size of 2-m allows astronomers to see fainter NEOs than most other facilities regularly used for this task. Test observations took place in September, and the full programme begins in October. The work is supported by a grant from the British National Space Centre (BNSC) and the Particle Physics Research Council (PPARC).
Julia Maddock | alfa
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