U of R professors part of effort to develop tech for detecting asteroids | WHEC.com

U of R professors part of effort to develop tech for detecting asteroids

Jennifer Ly
Created: June 17, 2021 06:43 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — NASA is working on a critical project to protect planet earth, and a team of local scientists is representing Rochester on the planetary defense mission.

“Our whole effort is on developing and characterizing the sensors that are part of the cameras that will fly,” said Judith Pipher, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at the University of Rochester.

Pipher is also the Principal Investigator of the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor.

For more than a decade, a team of scientists including Pipher and Craig McMurtry at the University of Rochester have been developing infrared sensors that would help detect near-earth objects, otherwise known as asteroids, that may pass through the earth's orbit.

"The asteroids essentially give off heat and infrared sensors measure heat, so we're trying to use these sensors to find these objects against the cold background of space,” said Craig McMurtry, Senior Research Engineer at the University of Rochester. 

NASA’S Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson says so far NASA has tracked about 40% of the asteroids known in space.

“We now have over 26,000 asteroids in our catalog of these objects that come near the earth,” Johnson said.

"There are asteroids out there that come close to the earth. In fact, small asteroids come between the earth and moon all the time, many times a year,” he said. 

Just last week, NASA approved the space telescope called the NEO Surveyor, and Johnson believes the infrared sensors developed by Pipher and her team will help detect the other 60% out there.

“Fortunately we now have the technology, NEO Surveyor and the work that the University of Rochester is doing is providing that technology that we can detect these objects while they're still well out in space and be able to predict and warn of any potential impact hazard years or decades into the future,” Johnson said. 

The space telescope is expected to launch in early 2026, pending funding from Congress.

“As long as Congress continues to fund us, we'll meet that launch date,” McMurtry said.


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