NASA says it will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. GMT) on Thursday to reveal near-Earth asteroid findings and implications for future research. The briefing will take place at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, launched in December 2009, captured millions of images of galaxies and objects in space. During the news conference, panelists will discuss results from an enhancement of WISE called Near-Earth Object WISE (NEOWISE) that hunted for asteroids.
The news conference panelists will include Lindley Johnson, Near-Earth Object program executive, NASA Headquarters, Washington; Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California; Tim Spahr, director, Minor Planet Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Lucy McFadden, scientist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.
The conference takes place on the same week that a 13-metre-wide asteroid, named SE58, passed within 0.6 Lunar Distances of Planet Earth. SE58′s approach occured in the early hours of Tuesday 27 September 2011.
The NASA conference also coincides with an ESA (European Space Agency) seminar on Space Situational Awareness, which also be held on Thursday in Warsaw, Poland. Participants will include senior managers, policy-makers and scientists from ESA, ESA Member States, the EU, European institutions and international partner organisations.
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The Agency’s SSA Preparatory Programme was authorised at the November 2008 ESA Ministerial Council and formally launched on 1 January 2009. The objective of the SSA programme is to support Europe’s independent use of, and access to, space through the provision of timely and accurate information, data and services regarding the space environment, and particularly regarding hazards to infrastructure in orbit and on the ground. In general, these hazards stem from possible collisions between objects in orbit, harmful space weather and potential strikes by natural objects that cross Earth’s orbit.
It remains unclear at this point whether NASA or the ESA will reveal further information about a near-earth asteroid that is scheduled to pass between the moon and earth later this year.
The 1300-foot-wide (400 metres) asteroid, which is more than one and a half times the length of a soccer pitch, will pass within 0.85 lunar distances of the Earth on November 8, 2011.
Discovered on December 28, 2005 by Robert McMillan of the Spacewatch Program near Tucson, Arizona, 2005 YU55 is believed to be a very dark, nearly spherical object.
According to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program: “Although classified as a potentially hazardous object, 2005 YU55 poses no threat of an Earth collision over at least the next 100 years. However, this will be the closest approach to date by an object this large that we know about in advance and an event of this type will not happen again until 2028 when asteroid (153814) 2001 WN5 will pass to within 0.6 lunar distances.”
While neither the European Space Agency (ESA) nor NASA has suggested that YU55 poses a threat to Earth, plans to develop a mission to counteract a potential asteroid collision in the future are already underway.
The ESA confirmed last month that it is planning to fire an ‘impactor’ satellite into a ‘test’ asteroid in 2015 to see if the object’s trajectory can be altered. The Agency is conducting the test mission in light of the minimal threat posed by the 700-1100-foot-wide 99942 Apophis asteroid, which has a one in 250,000 chance of impacting Earth in 2036.
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