A meteor (top, R) streaks past stars in the night sky above Lake Geneva and the Mont-Blancl, at the Mont-Tendre near Montricher in the Jura, north of Geneva, early August 11, 2012. The Perseid meteor shower is sparked every August when the Earth passes through a stream of space debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
The Canadian Space Agency is sending a satellite to space later this month to track and monitor the cosmos for space rocks similar to the asteroid that zoomed pass Earth last weekend.
The Near-Earth Object Space Surveillance Satellite, weighing in at only 143 pounds, will be sent into orbit with the help of an Indian rocket that's scheduled to launch on February 25. Once in orbit the $12 million satellite will keep a lookout for space rocks that may potentially be on a crash course with Earth. It will also monitor other satellites and space junk in order to prevent costly collisions, National Geographic reports.
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Researchers have high expectations for the satellite and say the it has the capabilities to find at least a hundred new asteroids in its first year in orbit.
"This spacecraft is designed to be able to search the sky near the sun, which is difficult for Earth-based telescopes to do, and so it therefore complements ground-based search programs," said Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, and lead scientist for the NEOSSat mission.
The satellite is equipped with gadgets that will help it spot at least 50 percent of the asteroids that are half-a-mile across or larger in size and are within Earth's orbit around the sun. The satellite has a six-inch-wide telescope that is commonly used by amateur enthusiasts but when orbiting at an estimated 435 miles above the atmosphere the satellite should be able to see asteroids that are fainter than some of the ones spotted by ground observatories, Hildebrand said.
Researchers hope the satellite will help spot Atira class asteroids, considered the most sinister near Earth objects (NEO) because they commonly cross the planet's orbit. Robert Jedicke, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, told National Geographic that some NEOs fool observers because they behave like asteroids that are much further away.
"Finding them will allow us to fine-tune the calculations of the risk of Earth impact and to test our theories that govern the evolution of asteroid orbits out of the main belt into the region near Earth," said Jedicke, adding that the satellite is a major contribution in the search for space rocks but that there is much left to be done.