Asteroid - Discovery - Computerized Methods

Computerized Methods

There is increasing interest in identifying asteroids whose orbits cross Earth's, and that could, given enough time, collide with Earth (see Earth-crosser asteroids). The three most important groups of near-Earth asteroids are the Apollos, Amors, and Atens. Various asteroid deflection strategies have been proposed, as early as the 1960s.

The near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros had been discovered as long ago as 1898, and the 1930s brought a flurry of similar objects. In order of discovery, these were: 1221 Amor, 1862 Apollo, 2101 Adonis, and finally 69230 Hermes, which approached within 0.005 AU of the Earth in 1937. Astronomers began to realize the possibilities of Earth impact.

Two events in later decades increased the alarm: the increasing acceptance of Walter Alvarez' hypothesis that an impact event resulted in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction, and the 1994 observation of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashing into Jupiter. The U.S. military also declassified the information that its military satellites, built to detect nuclear explosions, had detected hundreds of upper-atmosphere impacts by objects ranging from one to 10 metres across.

All these considerations helped spur the launch of highly efficient automated systems that consist of Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) cameras and computers directly connected to telescopes. Since 1998, a large majority of the asteroids have been discovered by such automated systems. A list of teams using such automated systems includes:

  • The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) team
  • The Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) team
  • Spacewatch
  • The Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) team
  • The Catalina Sky Survey (CSS)
  • The Campo Imperatore Near-Earth Objects Survey (CINEOS) team
  • The Japanese Spaceguard Association
  • The Asiago-DLR Asteroid Survey (ADAS)

The LINEAR system alone has discovered 121,346 asteroids, as of March, 2011. Among all the automated systems, 4711 near-Earth asteroids have been discovered including over 600 more than 1 km (0.6 mi) in diameter.

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