Amateur astronomers wanted to help prevent an asteroid impact

Would you like to feel like the protagonist of a Saturday afternoon movie helping to protect our planet from the impact of an asteroid? You don’t have to be a fearless divorced astronomer who happens to find yourself spending the holidays with a teenage daughter who still hates you for the separation. In fact, you don’t even have to be an astronomer. Of course, you must have a good telescope and live in a few specific points on Earth.

At least, that is the proposal recently made to its customers by the telescope sales company Unistellar. Its objective is to give a hand to the astrophysicists in charge of monitoring Apophis, the asteroid most likely to hit Earth in the near future. The good part of all this is that, despite being the most probable, it is a remote probability. But hey, any help is little, even when misfortune is almost impossible.

How can we help prevent an asteroid impact?

The most likely asteroid impact in the near future would be Apophis. The date this would be most likely to occur is the April 12, 2068, according to the latest calculations.

Hit probability is 1 in 150,000

However, it should be noted that the probability is 1 in 150,000. Fortunately, 2020 and 2021 will be far behind; But since we do not know what the future will bring, better safe than sorry. Therefore, in the same way as with other objects near the Earth, known as NEOs for its acronym in English, it will be better to keep an eye on it.

Unfortunately, this asteroid is complicated in size. With their between 340 and 370 meters long, is large enough to cause significant damage, but too small to easily observe and take the necessary measurements.

The astronomers’ best ally for this was the Arecibo Observatory. Unfortunately, it had been seriously damaged after surviving several earthquakes, so it ended up collapsing last December. Without their help, the observation of Apophis is much more complicated, hence the help of amateur astronomers can be so useful.

What is there to do?

One of the best methods to determine the orbit of an asteroid is to observe it when passes in front of a star. It is a technique that is also used, for example, to search for exoplanets. As the object in question passes in front of it, it temporarily interrupts the arrival of its light towards an observer on Earth, who can calculate its location.

Only those on an imaginary line between Washington and West Africa can help

Of course, this would be a very useful measurement to prevent the future impact of an asteroid. And, precisely, on the night of next Sunday to Monday, at 23:50 CT, it will be a perfect time to do it, since Apophis will block star HD89707.

It can be seen at any point on an imaginary line, which goes from Washington State to West Africa, via the Gulf of Mexico. Few professional observatories are found on this line. However, there may be many amateur astronomers in it. For this reason, Unistellar has encouraged buyers of its eVscopes on its website to lend a hand to science, if they are in any of these points.

asteroid impactUnistellar

These telescopes have functions that allow you to record the event. Also, even if they do not detect the change in brightness at the moment, a subsequent development can help you do it.

Franck marchis, director of the company and senior astronomer of SETI, has explained that, if achieved, “it would be the smallest asteroid ever detected by occultation.” It is certainly not an easy task and, unfortunately, not all astronomers can try it. However, for those who are in a position to do so, it will be a real challenge. Those of us who find ourselves outside that line will have to leave the job to them and hope that, why not ?, they will do their bit to help protect the Earth from the impact of an asteroid.

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