NASA Creates Software to Keep Tabs on Killer Asteroids

© East News / Photoshot/REPORTERThis is an artist's impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid
This is an artist's impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid - Sputnik International
Scout, a new computer system, will allow for the detection of potentially dangerous asteroids, and calculate their possible impact point on the Earth’s surface.

The program can identify asteroids likely to hit the Earth, automatically calculating the path and impact of celestial bodies, according to researchers.

"Some near-Earth asteroids are […] potentially hazardous to Earth and their properties need to be better understood in order to inform impact mitigation strategies," NASA writes.

Identifying small asteroids is difficult, requiring multiple observations to determine a precise orbital measurement. The earlier a researcher can collect data, the more effective are the predictive estimates, especially when it comes to asteroids that may strike the Earth.

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A website for the Minor Planet Center (MPC), of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is used by astronomers to post information related to interesting space objects, and those observations can be used by other sky-watchers for further study. However, there are obstacles that can impede accuracy, and astronomers are required to check the site regularly, as information posted from different time zones may not be seen for hours.

Improving on the model, Scout automatically checks the website and, over the course of ten minutes, calculates the potential paths of newly-posted objects. In the event an asteroid poses a threat to Earth, the program informs astronomers by email or text. Astronomers then continue and deepen their observations, followed by refined calculations from Scout.

Referring to near-Earth objects and their potential to impact our planet, Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, told, "In many cases, after a few more observations, we realize it's not high priority, because it's not going to come as close as suspected."

Once a space object is identified as an asteroid, another program, called Sentry, begins to monitor the orbiting space rock.

These automated warning systems can help corresponding organizations to centralize data, and prepare, if necessary, for disaster.

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