Today the NEO Coordination Centre (NEOCC) celebrates its first year of activities. On 22 May 2013 the Centre was formally inaugurated at ESRIN by Thomas Reiter, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations. Since then, the Centre has regularly provided information and data on NEOs through its main services updated on a daily basis (Risk list, Priority list, Close Approaches and Physical Properties) and through its technical news service.
A team of European astronomers has found a previously unknown comet, detected as a tiny blob of light orbiting our Sun deep in the Solar System.
With a mandate from the UN, ESA and other space agencies from around the world are about to establish a high-level group to help coordinate global response should a threatening asteroid ever be found heading towards Earth.
The first recovery campaign carried out by the ESA NEO Coordination Centre in coordination with ESO, using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) (VLT telescopes on the Paranal mountain in Chile (credit: ESO)) turned out to be a success. Before the campaign, asteroid 2009 FD was ranked among the top five objects in the risk list.
In a fruitful collaboration between ESA and a group of amateur astronomers, the first comet was discovered by the so-called TOTAS survey. The comet is called P/2014 C1 (TOTAS) and has an orbit between Jupiter and Mars. TOTAS stands for 'Tenerife Observatory Teide Asteroid Survey'.
If an asteroid is discovered which could come very close to Earth, it is important to coordinate observational activities quickly to better know its precise flyby distance.This is illustrated by the following case of near-Earth asteroid (NEA) 2013 NJ.
On 8 November 2013 asteroid 2013 TV135 has been removed from the Risk Page. The non-zero impact probability spotted by monitoring systems just after its discovery (on 8 October 2013) dropped essentially to zero. The bulk of astrometric data collected by astronomers during exactly one month of observations helped to improve our knowledge of its orbit, that eventually turned out to be a safe one.
Soon after having been spotted in the sky on 8 October 2013 from the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory (Ukraine), asteroid 2013TV135 topped the Risk Page. Being a relatively large object (500 m in size) it quickly gained the headline news having ramped up the Palermo Scale value for a possible impact in August 2032.
Last month, ESA's near-Earth asteroid coordination centre triggered a series of European observations that confirmed an unknown object was, in fact, of human origin. The confirmation was the Centre's second such success in recent months and demonstrates the effectiveness of the Agency's asteroid-monitoring activities.
The number of known Near-Earth Asteroids has just overcome 10,000 units! This result represents an important achievement if one thinks that over the one hundred years between 1898 (when the first NEA, 433 Eros was discovered) and 1998 only about 500 NEAs had been found, while the current NEA discovery rate is about 1,000 per year.
Although Gaia's primary mission goal is the precise measurement of star positions and not observing NEOs, nevertheless it is likely to produce a significant contribution to NEO detection. This is due to the peculiar way its on-board telescopes will scan the sky, reaching solar elongations as low as 45 degrees.
The data gathered by the US WISE mission have been released as public domain on 14 March 2012. This release provides improved calibration and processing algorithms.
While the sky becomes more and more continuously scanned by ground and space-based NEO surveys, discovering objects in unusual orbital configurations represents the new frontier. Their dynamics translates into peculiar visibility conditions thus calling for smart observation strategies. Tunguska-class (i.e. 30-60 meter size) objects in orbits closely resembling that of the Earth turn out particularly elusive due to their faint appearance and the long synodic period.
In a recent close-ish flyby, asteroid 2002 GT was studied in detail for the first time by a network of European astronomers. The observations were coordinated by ESA's asteroid centre in Italy, and should prove crucial for a future spacecraft rendezvous
A new series of images from Gemini Observatory shows Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) heading toward an extremely close rendezvous with the Sun. The images have been takenbetween February and May 2013 and show the comet's remarkable activity despite its current great distance from the Sun and Earth
An interesting connection between Earth Observation and NEO monitoring activities has been unveiled through the NEO Coordination Centre participation at the "Big Data From Space" meeting, held at ESRIN from 5 to 7 june 2013
ESA today inaugurated a new hub that will strengthen Europe's contribution to the global hunt for asteroids and other hazardous natural objects that may strike Earth. Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs, are asteroids or comets with sizes ranging from metres to tens of kilometres that orbit the Sun and whose orbits come close to that of Earth.
In February, a speeding asteroid slammed into our atmosphere and exploded high over Russia's Ural region (on the left- Asteroid trace over Chelyabinsk, Russia, on 15 February 2013), injuring hundreds and causing millions of euros of damage. What should we do if we have a similar – or even bigger – strike in the future?
In the last observing slot the TOTAS survey found another NEO. This is the fifth NEO found in about 300 hours of survey time, which is a good result considering the field of view of the telescope. The lucky 'clicker' who identified the object as a real object was Felix Hormuth. Congratulations!
On 15 Feb 2013, a very large fireball was reported over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Peter Brown from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, analyzed infrasound measurements of the event and deduced the following parameters:
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