ESA Teaming Up With Amateur Astronomers To Spot Near Earth Objects
May 14, 2012

ESA Teaming Up With Amateur Astronomers To Spot Near Earth Objects

Lee Rannals for

The European Space Agency (ESA) is reaching out to amateur astronomers, asking for their help in discovering potentially dangerous space rocks.

ESA's Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program helps keep up with space hazards, with everything from space weather to debris objects in Earth orbit.

The program also keeps up with "Near Earth objects," or NEOs, which are asteroids that pass close enough to our planet to cause concern.

NEOs are hard to survey and catalogue because they are very dark, and can approach very close to Earth without anyone noticing them.

The SSA program is developing services and infrastructure to enable Europe to observe NEOs, predict their orbits, produce impact warnings, and get involved in possible mitigation measures and civil response.

The program is also helping to provide services to monitor man-made debris objects in orbit that can pose hazards to astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS), as well as satellites.

ESA is asking amateur astronomers to "crowdsource" observations as part of Europe's contribution to the global asteroid hunt.

The space agency's new efforts will add to the follow-up observations already being done at its telescope on Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

U.K.'s Faulkes Telescope Project has partnered with ESA this month, becoming the latest team to formally support the SSA program.

“The wider astronomy community offers a wealth of expertise and enthusiasm, and they have the time and patience to verify new sightings; this helps tremendously,” Detlef Koschny, Head of NEO activity at ESA´s SSA program office, said in a press release.

“In return, we share observing time at ESA´s own Optical Ground Station in Tenerife and provide advice, support and professional validation. We´ll assist them in any way we can.”

Nick Howes, Pro-Am Program Manager at the Faulkes Telescope, said that the new partnership with ESA is a good opportunity.

"Use of the 2 m-diameter telescopes in Hawaii and Siding Spring, Australia, will greatly enhance asteroid-spotting for the SSA program, enabling fainter object detection and tracking from a global telescope network," he said.

“For European students, collaborating on exciting ESA activities and possibly detecting new NEOs is very appealing, as it´s engagement with one of the world´s great space agencies doing critical scientific work.”