The sky is very big. How are we going to search for asteroids, especially those that could threaten Earth?
At a time when there are many programs dedicated to the search for asteroids ―LINEAR, NEOWISE, Pan-STARRS, NEAT, Spacewatch Project, Catalina Sky Survey and others, they all face three major difficulties. The first is the limitations of telescopes. The second is permissions; asteroids are very small and difficult to see. And finally, the third is difficult to predict in which direction an asteroid can go.
Most asteroids approaching the Earth come from the main Asteroid Belt, which is located between Mars and Jupiter. In relation to the background star, these small objects move very fast.
It was a real challenge, and apart from the supercomputer, no one else could carry out the calculation of all possible trajectories from several limited images. But one group of scientists says that they may have solved the problem with high-performance desktop computers, simply because technology has improved.
In an article published on Arxiv and adopted in the Astrophysical Journal, three astronomers describe a technique where they take a bunch of short sky exposures, and then digitally “shift” them so that the images in combination show bands from stars and asteroids in one the point. They argue that this will help to find asteroids that are 10 times weaker than those that we see with ordinary telescopes.
Astronomers reviewed the test in April 2013 using two nights (or datasets) from 126 to 130 images, and processed information using a desktop computer for 50 days. The telescope was small - WIYN 0, 9 with an observatory on Keith Peak in Arizona - but astronomers hope to use a four-meter telescope in Chile for the next stage if they get approval.
“With a smaller telescope, it will take more time,” says a researcher at the University of Hawaii and lead author Aren Heinze, after defending a doctoral thesis. "With a large telescope, we can make a short exposure on each part of the sky and cover the same part of the skyscraper with greater sensitivity in a short amount of time."
Astronomers say their idea can overcome the key limitation of the usual asteroid search: during exposure, trying to find weak asteroids, their movement and poor appearance can make objects blurred in the background. However, research at an early stage, and it will take some time to find out how effective the new technique is in comparison with the old one.