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Vera C. Rubin Observatory detects its first asteroid

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The detection of asteroids is an essential aspect of planetary defense and understanding the potential risks they pose to Earth. Astronomers use various methods to detect and track asteroids. Astronomers use telescopes on Earth to scan the night sky for moving objects. These telescopes capture images of celestial bodies, and by comparing multiple images taken over time, they can identify asteroids based on their apparent motion against the background stars.

Information from various observations is compiled into databases, such as the Minor Planet Center (MPC), where asteroid orbits and other relevant data are recorded and shared with the scientific community. Once an asteroid is detected, its orbit is calculated, and its trajectory is projected into the future to determine if it poses any potential impact risks to Earth. If an asteroid is found to be on a collision course with our planet, further observation and analysis are conducted to refine its orbit and predict its potential impact point and time.

An asteroid discovery algorithm used by Vera C. Rubin Observatory has identified its first “potentially hazardous” asteroid in Earth’s vicinity, designated 2022 SF289, during a test drive of the algorithm with the ATLAS survey in Hawaii.

Vera C. Rubin Observatory
Credit: Rubin Observatory/NSF/AURA/B. Quint/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0 license

(Vera C. Rubin Observatory)

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory (former Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)),is an astronomical observatory that is being built in Chile. Its main goal is to conduct the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), a 10-year project that will observe the entire visible sky every few nights and produce a huge amount of data to study the deep and dynamic universe. The observatory is named after Vera Rubin, an American astronomer who made important discoveries about the rotation of galaxies and the existence of dark matter.

The observatory will use the Simonyi Survey Telescope, an 8.4-meter telescope with a unique three-mirror design that allows it to have a very wide field of view. The telescope will be equipped with a 3.2-gigapixel camera, the largest digital camera ever built, that will capture images of billions of stars, galaxies, asteroids, and other celestial objects. The data from the camera will be processed and stored by a sophisticated data management system that will also make the data accessible to scientists and the public.

The LSST will address four main science areas: probing dark energy and dark matter, taking an inventory of the solar system, exploring the transient optical sky, and mapping the Milky Way. The LSST will help us understand the nature of dark energy and dark matter, which make up most of the mass and energy in the universe but are still mysterious. The LSST will also discover and track millions of asteroids and comets, some of which could pose a threat to Earth. The LSST will monitor the sky for transient events, such as supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, and gravitational waves, that reveal the violent nature of the cosmos. The LSST will also map the structure and history of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, by measuring the positions, motions, and properties of millions of stars.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is expected to start operations in 2024 and will be one of the most powerful and productive telescopes in the world. It will open a new window to the universe and enable discoveries that we cannot even imagine today.

“By demonstrating the real-world effectiveness of the software that Rubin will use to look for thousands of yet-unknown potentially hazardous asteroids, the discovery of 2022 SF289 makes us all safer,” said Rubin scientist Ari Heinze, the principal developer of HelioLinc3D and a researcher at the University of Washington.

It’s important to note that detecting asteroids is an ongoing process, and the scientific community continually monitors the skies for any potential threats. Efforts to detect and track asteroids play a crucial role in planetary defense and provide valuable insights into the early history of the solar system.

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