A partnership with the University of Glamorgan’s Faulkes Telescope Project (FTP) promises to boost the European Space Agency’s research, while helping school students to discover potentially dangerous space rocks.
The European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awarenessprogramme is keeping watch over space hazards, including disruptive space weather, debris objects in Earth’s orbit and asteroids that pass close enough to cause concern. The asteroids – known as ‘near-Earth objects’, or NEOs, since they cross Earth’s orbit – are a particular problem.
Attempts to survey and catalogue hazardous asteroids face a number of difficulties. The asteroids are often jet black or at least very dark, they can approach rather too close before anyone sees them, and they are often spotted only once and then disappear before the discovery can be confirmed.
Astronomers at Glamorgan will be using the Faulkes Telescopes in Hawaii and Australia to help detect and track NEOs, with school students and amateur astronomers assisting the research efforts. FTP and ESA are turning to students and amateurs to ‘crowdsource’ observations as part of Europe’s contribution to the global asteroid hunt.
“The link up with the European Space Agency (ESA) is recognition of the great work that our users are doing in supporting real scientific research programmes” says Dr Paul Roche, Director of the Faulkes Telescope Project andHead of Astronomy at the University of Glamorgan. “We will be enabling school students to work alongside ESAspace scientists, assisting them in their studies of the potential threat from space debris near the Earth’s orbit”.
Scientists at ESA are looking forward to the chance to share their research with a wider audience. “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,” says Dr Detlef Koschny, Head of NEO activity at ESA’s SSA programme office. “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.”
The Faulkes Telescope Project runs both educational and research programmes and has a strong record in public education and science outreach, both in the UK and internationally. Last summer, 18-year old Cardiff school studentHannah Blyth discovered over 20 asteroids in a month-long pilot study to test the feasibility of this work.