European Space Agency Opens Center To Watch For Near-Earth Objects
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Strengthening Europe´s contribution to the global hunt for asteroids and other natural objects that may strike Earth, the European Space Agency (ESA) inaugurated the NEO Coordination Center this week.
Asteroids or comets — ranging in size from meters to tens of kilometers — that orbit the Sun and whose orbits come close to that of Earth are known as Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs. Over 600,000 asteroids are currently identified in our Solar System, and nearly 10,000 of those are NEOs.
On February 15th of this year, we received dramatic proof that some of these NEOs can strike Earth when an unknown object thought to be 55 -65 feet in diameter exploded above Chelyabinsk, Russia. The explosion had 20-30 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, with a resulting shockwave that caused widespread damage and injuries. This NEO was the largest known natural object to have entered the atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event.
A network of European NEO data sources and information providers being established under ESA´s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Program will use the NEO Coordination Center as a center access point. The SSA also opened the Space Weather Coordination Center in Brussels last month.
Thomas Reiter, Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, joined with Augusto Cramarossa, Italian Delegate to the ESA Council, and Claudio Portelli, Italian Delegate to the SSA Program, both of ASI, the Italian space agency to formally inaugurate the Center, which is located at ESRIN, ESA´s center for Earth observation.
The center will federate new and existing European assists, systems and sensors to create a future NEO system, which will support the integration and initial operation of ESA´s NEO information distribution network.
The Center will also serve as a focus point for scientific studies aimed at improving NEO warning services and providing near-realtime data to customers, including scientific bodies, international organizations and decision-makers.