NASA unveils new system for tracking asteroid collisions

(ORDO NEWS) — To date, about 28,000 near-Earth asteroids have been detected using special telescopes that constantly scan the night sky, increasing the number of known space rocks by about 3,000 objects annually. But as more and more large and modern observatories are constantly being commissioned around the world, a significant increase in the number of discoveries is expected in the near future.

Anticipating this spike in new asteroid discoveries, NASA astronomers have developed a next-generation asteroid tracking algorithm called Sentry-II that will better predict the likelihood of near-Earth asteroid collisions with our planet.

NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), run by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, calculates the orbits of all known near-Earth asteroids to improve the accuracy of Earth rock collision estimates. The CNEOS Center assessed the risks of near-Earth asteroid collisions with our planet using software called Sentry, developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2002.

“The first version of the Sentry algorithm has worked effectively for nearly 20 years,” said Javier Roa Vicens, who led the development of the Sentry-II code while he was a navigation engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Roa Vicens is currently an employee of SpaceX. “It was based on ‘very sophisticated’ math – in less than an hour, you could reliably calculate the probability of a collision with a newly discovered asteroid for the next 100 years!”

But now, using the Sentry-II code, NASA has armed itself with a tool that allows you to quickly calculate collision probabilities for all known near-Earth asteroids, including some special cases not available for calculations using the original Sentry algorithm. The Sentry-II program reports on objects with the highest probability of collision with our planet in the form of special periodically published tables.

By systematically calculating the probabilities of collisions using this new method, the researchers improved the reliability of the collision tracking system, allowing NASA to assess all possible collisions, down to the least likely collision, with a probability of a few units in 10 million.

Now the system takes into account corrections for the Yarkovsky effect, and is also able to predict the orbits of asteroids that lie very close to the Earth and are subject to strong gravitational effects from our planet – which was not available for calculations using the Sentry code, the authors of the work explained.

The research is published in the Astronomical Journal.


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