Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018

Just a few days ago, a small asteroid lit up the sky over Botswana – having been discovered mere hours before it hit the Earth. Near Earth Objects (NEOs) like asteroids were the focus of a four-week conference at the Munich Institute for Astro and Particle Physics (MIAPP) in Garching. Dr. Detlef Koschny, lecturer with the Chair of Astronautics at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), explains why we need to expand NEO research and detection capabilities.

Sixty-five million years ago, a 15-kilometer-sized asteroid wiped out two-thirds of all life on Earth, including the dinosaurs. But it’s probably not this kind of monster asteroid that we should be worried about. It’s actually the smaller Near Earth Objects (NEOs) that pose a greater imminent threat, like the asteroid that struck Earth on June 2 that scientists only saw coming a day in advance.


Dr. Detlef Koschny, lecturer with the TUM Chair for Astronautics and head of the Near Earth Objects team at the European Space Agency (ESA).

Image: Andreas Battenberg / TUM

Internationally renowned astronomers, astrophysicists and space researchers gathered in Garching near Munich for the past four weeks to develop new strategies for the improved detection, scientific and commercial exploitation of and defense against NEOs. The conference was organized by the Munich Institute for Astro and Particle Physics (MIAPP), a subsidiary of the Cluster of Excellence “Origin and Structure of the Universe” at the Technical University of Munich (TUM).

Dr. Detlef Koschny, head of the Near Earth Objects team at the European Space Agency (ESA) and a lecturer with the TUM Chair for Astronautics, explains why scientists are increasing their research focus on smaller NEOs.

... more about:
»Asteroid »Comets »ESA »TUM

Let’s start with a basic question: How is an asteroid different from a meteorite?

Detlef Koschny: Asteroids are objects larger than one meter – for example the object that exploded over Botswana earlier this month. Meteoroids are objects smaller than one meter. If they enter and pass through a planet’s atmosphere, they are called meteorites. Comets are asteroids with large amounts of volatile compounds such as water ice. If they come close to the Sun, these compounds vaporize, creating their distinctive tails.

Hollywood disaster films like “Armageddon” always feature colossus asteroids on a direct collision course with Earth. So why should we be worried about smaller NEOs?

Detlef Koschny: NEOs that might potentially come close to or hit our planet range in size from a few millimeters to about 50 to 60 kilometers in diameter. We’ve detected the majority of the larger NEOs and computed their trajectories and the statistical risk for collision with Earth 100 years into the future.

We’ve mapped 90 percent of the asteroids that are a kilometer in size or larger. We know precisely where the big ones are and that they won’t pose a threat. In the ‘mid-size’ region, the situation is completely different: We have only detected and mapped less than one percent of NEOs smaller than a kilometer.

If a 100-meter asteroid hit Earth, it would cause significant damage in an area the size of Germany, and even affect the surrounding region. But asteroids of this size don’t strike Earth very often. Maybe every 10,000 years on average.

Going from 100 meters down to 50 meters, the statistical frequency of strikes increases to once every 1,000 years. Exactly a century ago in 1908, a 40-meter object struck the Earth over Tunguska, Siberia, destroying an area of forest the size of the Munich metro area.

And then if we go down to asteroid sizes around 20 meters – like the asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013, which ended up injuring 1,500 people – these occur on average once every 10 to 100 years. We will definitely see something like that again in our lifetime.

Nobody saw the Chelyabinsk asteroid coming before it hit. And scientists only spotted the one that hit Botswana a few hours in advance. What is the current state of NEO detection technology?

Detlef Koschny: Right now, there are two main survey programs running on Earth, both funded by our American colleagues. They utilize optical telescopes that cover a large field of view and can continually scan the night sky to detect any objects that are bright enough.

When it comes to detecting larger objects, this strategy works quite well, as these are visible even when they’re still far away from the Earth. But to detect smaller objects down to a size of 20 meters is very difficult. They are not bright enough to be detected until they are at least as close as the Moon.

If you only have two of these telescopes on the planet and it takes each telescope three weeks or so to cover the complete sky, you have to be really lucky that a small asteroid crosses your field of view just when you’re looking in the right direction.

That’s why we are currently developing extremely wide-field telescopes that will have the ability to scan the entire sky in just 48 hours. Additionally, within the ESA Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program, in which I work, we mobilize observatories and astronomers worldwide through the NEO Coordination Centre at the Agency's European Space Research Institute (ESRIN) facility in Italy.

So what are your recommendations for improving detection and tracking capabilities, and what new detection technologies are being deployed either currently or in the near future?

Detlef Koschny: There’s a system called Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) that just went online in the U.S. It consists of small telescopes which, while they don’t see very faint objects, cover almost the complete night sky once per night. Here in Europe, we are building the Flyeye telescope, with a one-meter effective aperture. It provides us with a big field of view that is more than 100 times the size of the full Moon in the night sky. In one night, with one telescope, we can cover about half the sky. The strategy to achieve this was developed by one of our master’s students here at TUM.

Our conclusion as the conference wraps up and one of the recommendations we’ll be making in the post-conference whitepaper: There’s an urgent need for more telescopes that can scan the sky for these NEOs, and a global network of telescopes that are working in concert, so that we can truly cover the smaller size range of asteroids in near-earth orbit. We definitively need to FIND these objects first before we can take any concrete action to defend ourselves against them.

Further information:

The conference was organized and hosted by the Munich Institute for Astro and Particle Physics (MIAPP) and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) via the Cluster of Excellence “Origin and Structure of the Universe” at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). MIAPP, which is based at the Garching Research Campus north of Munich, is embedded in the academic environment of the physics departments of TUM and Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, and the locally based Max Planck Institutes and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Cluster of Excellence “Universe”: http://www.universe-cluster.de

Munich Institute for Astro- and Particle Physics: http://www.munich-iapp.de/


Conference: Near-Earth Objects: Properties, Detection, Resources, Impacts and Defending Earth:
http://www.munich-iapp.de/programmes-topical-workshops/2018/near-earth-objects-p...

Website of the ESA SSA-NEO Program: http://neo.ssa.esa.int

World Asteroid Day, 30. Juni: https://asteroidday.org/
ESA World Asteroid Day: http://www.esa.int/asteroidday
ESO World Asteroid Day: https://supernova.eso.org/germany/programme/detail/es1053/

Contact:

Dr. Detlef Koschny
Technical University of Munich
Chair of Astronautics
Boltzmannstr. 15, 85748 Garching, Germany
Tel.: +49 89 289 16003 - E-mail: detlef.koschny@tum.de
Web: http://www.lrt.mw.tum.de/index.php?id=5&L=1

European Space Agency SXI-S
Keplerlaan 1, NL-2201 AZ Noordwijk ZH, The Netherlands
Tel.: +31 71 565 4828 - E-mail: detlef.koschny@esa.int
Web: https://www.esa.int/ESA

Weitere Informationen:

https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/detail/article/34696/ Link to the press release
https://www.youtube.com/user/ESA/search?query=asteroid ESA-Videos about Asteroids
https://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2017/02/Flyeye_Observatory
https://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2017/06/Chelyabinsk_asteroid
https://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2017/06/Looking_at_Earth_from_an_Astero...

Dr. Ulrich Marsch | Technische Universität München

Further reports about: Asteroid Comets ESA TUM

More articles from Event News:

nachricht Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine
13.07.2018 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces
12.07.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT

All articles from Event News >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>