If these fragments had hit Earth instead..

Some good news for Queen’s University after the recent Clinton airport episode.. As the BBC report, Dr Alan Fitzsimmons and his colleagues at the Astrophysics Research Centre are to head up UK efforts to identify Near Earth Objects, of which one or two potentially hazardous examples have been mentioned recently [and are likely to continue to feature in reports – Ed]. They’ll be using data collected by the new Pan-Starrs observatory in Hawaii along with researchers at Edinburgh and Durham – who will be working on more distant objects in the Universe. [Lembit will be pleased – Ed]From the Queen’s University Astrophysics Research Centre’s statement

A primary goal of the Pan-STARRS project will be to survey nearby space for asteroids and comets that could collide with the Earth in the future, so-called Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). While current searches are sensitive to asteroids a km across or larger, Pan-STARRS will be the first telescope to discover large numbers of smaller NEOs.

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queens University will be studying these new objects to investigate what fraction are comets and what they are made of. Speaking about Queens involvement in the project he said: We will be concentrating on the smallest Near-Earth Objects, as we know very little about these bodies. Yet they hit our Earth much more frequently than large asteroids and comets, so we need to know their physical and chemical make-up if we want to understand the risk posed by them.

By monitoring the whole sky every week, Pan-STARRS will also become the world’s leading search for exploding stars called supernovae. A supernova is a fantastically energetic explosion at the end of the life of a very massive star. They are a billion times brighter than the sun and can be seen in the distant Universe.

The Queen’s astronomers will be part of a larger consortium using data collected by the new telescope

Over 30 world-renowned scientists and their graduate students have committed themselves to analysing the unprecedented flood of data from PS1 over the next three and half years and Kenneth Chambers, from the University of Hawaii, who as Project Scientist is responsible for carrying out the PS1 survey said: “We decided to recruit a number of top astronomers to join us in order to make the best use of this fantastic instrument.

Rolf Kudritzki, Director of UH’s Institute for Astronomy added: “We are delighted to have assembled a powerful consortium that includes the prestigious Max Planck Society in Germany, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Las Cumbres Observatory in the USA and Durham, Edinburgh and Queens Universities in the United Kingdom”.

More on the potential threat to Earth from asteroids and comets from the Pan-STARRS website