The BBC science reporter notes that funding concerns at the Arecibo Observatory might affect its planned radar tracking of the potentially hazardous Near Earth Object, Apophis, in January 2013 [when it will pass by the Earth at a distance of 13 million kilometres] – no update yet on Russia’s plans to affect its orbit… Meanwhile, Nasas Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer [WISE], which produced a medley of images in February, spotted its first never-before-seen near-Earth asteroid, 2010 AB78, at the end of January. As the Science@Nasa podcast explains
Many telescopes on Earth are already searching. Notable programs include LINEAR, the Catalina Sky Survey, Spacewatch, NEAT and LONEOS, among others. Working together over the years they have found more than a thousand potentially hazardous asteroids. WISE’s contribution to the total will be impressive. Between now and late October, when the mission is slated to end, [Ned Wright, principal investigator for WISE] estimates the observatory will find a hundred thousand asteroids, mostly in the main belt, and hundreds of near Earth objects.
And here’s a revealing image from the podcast report.
Above: This blink comparison shows why infrared wavelengths are so good for asteroid hunting. It’s a patch of sky in the constellation Taurus photographed at two different times by the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope. The two frames are correctly aligned; the objects are moving because they are asteroids. At thermal infrared wavelengths, most of the bright objects in the plane of the solar system are space rocks. [more]
It’s probably worth keeping an eye on the WISE website at UCLA…