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Intruder Alert! NASA's 'Scout' Asteroid Detector Spotted Space Rock Heading Towards Earth

Nov 03, 2016 04:56 AM EDT
NASA's asteroid-detecting tool called Scout proved its worth when it managed to detect a speeding asteroid and predict its path during testing.
(Photo : Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images)

NASA has developed a new asteroid-detecting system designed to provide a more accurate space rock detection system to help identify the risks posed by these objects to Earth. During its testing period, SCOUT proved its capacity as it successfully detected and predicted an asteroid's path as it passed by close to the planet.

Scout managed to predict the path of asteroid 2016 UR36 as it hurtled towards Earth last Oct. 25. The Scout tool managed to identify the direction of the space rock and successfully predicted where it is headed. The asteroid's trajectory was towards the Earth but passed by in a safe distance of about 310,000 miles away or about three times the distance between the moon and the Earth.

Before Scout, NASA and astronomers only have a few hour window to analyze the danger posed by passing asteroids. But with the new tool, NASA now has a lead of a few days to analyze the space rock trajectory, study the danger it poses and allow for an advanced preparation if needed.

The new "intruder alert" system spotted asteroid 2016 UR36 last Oct. 25 using a telescope located in Hawaii. After being detected the data was uploaded in NASA's Scout tool, which then predicted its path within minutes. The successful prediction of 2016 UR36 proved that the new "intruder alert" system works.

The said detection occurred while the Scout tool is under its testing period at NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. Once fully operational, Scout will rely on data from telescopes around the world and will identify asteroids that could potentially hit or pose a risk to planet Earth. After Scout identifies potential asteroids that might hit the Earth, it will alert telescopes to do follow-up observations of target objects to confirm the space rock's trajectory. The telescopes will then help determine if the asteroid will fly past Earth and its distance from the planet.

"The Nasa surveys are finding something like at least five asteroids every night," astronomer Paul Chodas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in an interview with NPR. "When a telescope first finds a moving object, all you know is it's just a dot, moving in the sky."

Scout is designed to hasten the process of asteroid detection to enable faster preparation in case of a potential asteroid impact. The 'intruder alert' tool is expected to become fully operational this year.


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