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UH scientists track asteroid in deep space

MANOA — After a choreographed crash of a spacecraft into an asteroid in deep space Monday, University of Hawai‘i Institute for Astronomy are using huge telescopes atop Haleakala on Maui and Maunakea on Hawai‘i Island to gauge the success of the earth-defense test.

Scientists are using the telescopes to collect data on how the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, impacted (pun intended) the course of the asteroid Dimorphos.

“The Earth has been hit by big asteroids in the past, and with all likelihood will be hit by something big again,” said J.D. Armstrong, HI STAR director and IfA Maui outreach astronomer.

“When we find one coming our way, we want to know what to do. We want to know how to change the path of the asteroid so that it will not hit us. It could be that important.”

Armstrong and fellow IfA Astronomer Dave Tholen will also work with students throughout the next couple of months to track Dimorphos’ orbit using photometric observations.

If the impact changes the asteroid’s velocity it will prove the planetary-defense method can be effective in pushing a potentially hazardous asteroid away from Earth.

Educational opportunities

Tholen will mentor UH-Manoa undergraduate student Vernon Roark, an astrophysics major who will obtain orbital shift observations as part of his senior research project. HI-STAR high school students Wilson Chau, Holden Suzuki and James Ancheta will work alongside Armstrong on Maui to also closely track the asteroid’s orbit.

Hawai‘i astronomy serves critical planetary-defense role

UH’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope on Haleakala is the world leader in finding larger near-earth objects that could pose a threat to the planet. IfA astronomers who operate the observatory on Maui play a fundamental role in the nation’s planetary-defense program. In 2017, during routine operations, Pan-STARRS discovered the mysterious interstellar object, ‘Oumuamua, the very first of its kind spotted in the solar system.

After Pan-STARRS identifies an object that might be passing very close, telescopes on Maunakea and elsewhere around the world will stop what they are working on and track the object to determine if it is a possible threat to Earth.

The search for NEOs is funded by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office through its Near-Earth Object Observations Program.
Source: The Garden Island

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