From The University of Arizona and NASA JPL-Caltech: “Planetary defense exercise uses Apophis as hazardous asteroid stand-in”

From The University of Arizona

and

NASA JPL-Caltech

5.31.22

Media contact
Mikayla Mace Kelley
Science Writer, University Communications
mikaylamace@arizona.edu
520-621-1878

Researcher contact(s)
Vishnu Reddy
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
reddy@lpl.arizona.edu
808-342-8932

Amy Mainzer
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
amainzer@email.arizona.edu
520-621-4676

Over 100 participants from 18 countries – including UArizona scientists and NASA’s UArizona-led NEOWISE mission – took part in the international exercise.

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This image shows the distance between the Apophis asteroid and Earth at the time of the asteroid’s closest approach. The blue dots are the many human-made satellites that orbit our planet, and the pink represents the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Watching the skies for large asteroids that could pose a hazard to the Earth is a global endeavor. So, to test their operational readiness, the international planetary defense community will sometimes use a real asteroid’s close approach as a mock encounter with a “new” potentially hazardous asteroid. The lessons learned could limit, or even prevent, global devastation should the scenario play out for real in the future.

To that end, more than 100 astronomers from around the world, including scientists at the University of Arizona, participated in an exercise last year in which a large, known, and potentially hazardous asteroid was essentially removed from the planetary defense-monitoring database to see whether it could be properly detected anew. Not only was the object “discovered” during the exercise, its chances of hitting Earth were continually reassessed as it was tracked, and the possibility of impact was ruled out.

Coordinated by the International Asteroid Warning Network and NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, the exercise confirmed that, from initial detection to follow-up characterization, the international planetary defense community can act swiftly to identify and assess the hazard posed by a new near-Earth asteroid discovery. The results of the exercise are detailed in a study published Tuesday in the Planetary Science Journal.

The exercise focused on the real asteroid Apophis.

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Apophis depiction. Credit: Universe Today.

For a short while after its discovery in 2004, Apophis was assessed to have a significant chance of impacting Earth in 2029 or later. But based on tracking measurements taken during several close approaches since the asteroid’s discovery, astronomers have refined Apophis’ orbit and now know that it poses no impact hazard whatsoever for 100 years or more. Scientific observations of Apophis’ most recent close approach, which occurred between December 2020 and March 2021, were used by the planetary defense community for this exercise.

“This real-world scientific input stress-tested the entire planetary defense response chain, from initial detection to orbit determination to measuring the asteroid’s physical characteristics, and even determining if, and where, it might hit Earth,” said Vishnu Reddy, associate professor in the UArizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who led the campaign.

Tracking a ‘new’ target

Astronomers knew Apophis would approach Earth in early December 2020. But to make the exercise more realistic, the Minor Planet Center – the internationally recognized clearinghouse for the position measurements of small celestial bodies – pretended that it was an unknown asteroid by preventing the new observations of Apophis from being connected with previous observations of it. When the asteroid approached, astronomical surveys had no prior record of Apophis.

On Dec. 4, 2020, as the asteroid started to brighten, the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey, based at UArizona, made the first detection and reported the object’s astrometry – its position in the sky – to the Minor Planet Center.

Because there was no prior record of Apophis for the purpose of this exercise, the asteroid was logged as a brand-new detection. Other detections followed from the Hawaii-based, NASA-funded Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System and Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System.

As Apophis drifted into the field of view of NASA’s UArizona-led Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or NEOWISE, mission, the Minor Planet Center linked its observations with those made by ground-based survey telescopes to show the asteroid’s motion through the sky. On Dec. 23, the Minor Planet Center announced the discovery of a “new” near-Earth asteroid. Exercise participants quickly gathered additional measurements to assess its orbit and whether it could impact Earth.

“Even though we knew that, in reality, Apophis was not impacting Earth in 2029, starting from square one – with only a few days of astrometric data from survey telescopes – there were large uncertainties in the object’s orbit that theoretically allowed an impact that year,” said Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who led the orbital determination calculations for JPL’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies.

During the asteroid’s March 2021 close approach, JPL astronomers used NASA’s 230-foot Goldstone Solar System Radar in California [below] to image and precisely measure the asteroid’s velocity and distance. These observations, combined with measurements from other observatories, allowed astronomers to refine Apophis’ orbit and rule out a 2029 impact for the purpose of the exercise. Beyond the exercise, they also were able to rule out any chance of impact for 100 years or more.
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NEOWISE homes in

Orbiting far above Earth’s atmosphere, NEOWISE provided infrared observations of Apophis that would be not possible from the ground because moisture in the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs light at these wavelengths.

“The independent infrared data collected from space greatly benefited the results from this exercise,” said Akash Satpathy, a UArizona graduate student who led a second paper [The Planetary Science Journal], with NEOWISE Principal Investigator Amy Mainzer, a UArizona professor of planetary sciences, describing the results with inclusion of their data in the exercise. “NEOWISE was able to confirm Apophis’ rediscovery while also rapidly gathering valuable information that could be used in planetary defense assessments, such as its size, shape and even clues as to its composition and surface properties.”

By better understanding the asteroid’s size, participating scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, could also estimate the impact energy that an asteroid like Apophis would deliver. And the participants simulated a swath of realistic impact locations on Earth’s surface that, in a real situation, would help disaster agencies with possible evacuation efforts.

“Seeing the planetary defense community come together during the latest close approach of Apophis was impressive,” said Michael Kelley, a program scientist with the Planetary Defense Coordination Office in NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., who provided guidance to the exercise participants. “Even during a pandemic, when many of the exercise participants were forced to work remotely, we were able to detect, track and learn more about a potential hazard with great efficiency. The exercise was a resounding success.”

Additional key planetary defense exercise working group leads included Jessie Dotson at NASA Ames; Nicholas Erasmus at the South African Astronomical Observatory; David Polishook at the Weizmann Institute in Israel; Joseph Masiero at Caltech-IPAC in Pasadena, California; and Lance Benner at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, a division of Caltech.

NEOWISE’s successor, the next-generation NEO Surveyor, also led by Mainzer, is scheduled to launch no earlier than 2026 and will greatly expand the knowledge NEOWISE has amassed about the near-Earth asteroids that populate our solar system.

More information about the Center for Near Earth Object, asteroids and near-Earth objects can be found on the JPL website. For asteroid and comet news and updates, follow @AsteroidWatch on Twitter.

See the full article here .


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NASA JPL-Caltech is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

NASA Deep Space Network. Credit: NASA.

NASA Deep Space Network Station 56 Madrid Spain added in early 2021.

NASA Deep Space Network Station 14 at Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California

NASA Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, AU, Deep Space Network. Credit: NASA

NASA Deep Space Network Madrid Spain. Credit: NASA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

As of 2019, the The University of Arizona enrolled 45,918 students in 19 separate colleges/schools, including The University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix and the James E. Rogers College of Law, and is affiliated with two academic medical centers (Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix). The University of Arizona is one of three universities governed by the Arizona Board of Regents. The university is part of the Association of American Universities and is the only member from Arizona, and also part of the Universities Research Association . The university is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity”.

Known as the Arizona Wildcats (often shortened to “Cats”), The University of Arizona’s intercollegiate athletic teams are members of the Pac-12 Conference of the NCAA. The University of Arizona athletes have won national titles in several sports, most notably men’s basketball, baseball, and softball. The official colors of the university and its athletic teams are cardinal red and navy blue.

After the passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, the push for a university in Arizona grew. The Arizona Territory’s “Thieving Thirteenth” Legislature approved The University of Arizona in 1885 and selected the city of Tucson to receive the appropriation to build the university. Tucson hoped to receive the appropriation for the territory’s mental hospital, which carried a $100,000 allocation instead of the $25,000 allotted to the territory’s only university Arizona State University was also chartered in 1885, but it was created as Arizona’s normal school, and not a university). Flooding on the Salt River delayed Tucson’s legislators, and by the time they reached Prescott, back-room deals allocating the most desirable territorial institutions had been made. Tucson was largely disappointed with receiving what was viewed as an inferior prize.

With no parties willing to provide land for the new institution, the citizens of Tucson prepared to return the money to the Territorial Legislature until two gamblers and a saloon keeper decided to donate the land to build the school. Construction of Old Main, the first building on campus, began on October 27, 1887, and classes met for the first time in 1891 with 32 students in Old Main, which is still in use today. Because there were no high schools in Arizona Territory, the university maintained separate preparatory classes for the first 23 years of operation.

Research

The University of Arizona is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. UArizona is the fourth most awarded public university by National Aeronautics and Space Administration for research. The University of Arizona was awarded over $325 million for its Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) to lead NASA’s 2007–08 mission to Mars to explore the Martian Arctic, and $800 million for its OSIRIS-REx mission, the first in U.S. history to sample an asteroid.

National Aeronautics Space Agency OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft.

The LPL’s work in the Cassini spacecraft orbit around Saturn is larger than any other university globally.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration/European Space Agency [La Agencia Espacial Europea][Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU)/ASI Italian Space Agency [Agenzia Spaziale Italiana](IT) Cassini Spacecraft.

The University of Arizona laboratory designed and operated the atmospheric radiation investigations and imaging on the probe. The University of Arizona operates the HiRISE camera, a part of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

U Arizona NASA Mars Reconnaisance HiRISE Camera.

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

While using the HiRISE camera in 2011, University of Arizona alumnus Lujendra Ojha and his team discovered proof of liquid water on the surface of Mars—a discovery confirmed by NASA in 2015. The University of Arizona receives more NASA grants annually than the next nine top NASA/JPL-Caltech-funded universities combined. As of March 2016, The University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is actively involved in ten spacecraft missions: Cassini VIMS; Grail; the HiRISE camera orbiting Mars; the Juno mission orbiting Jupiter; Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO); Maven, which will explore Mars’ upper atmosphere and interactions with the sun; Solar Probe Plus, a historic mission into the Sun’s atmosphere for the first time; Rosetta’s VIRTIS; WISE; and OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S. sample-return mission to a near-earth asteroid, which launched on September 8, 2016.

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NASA – GRAIL Flying in Formation (Artist’s Concept). Credit: NASA.
National Aeronautics Space Agency Juno at Jupiter.

NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

NASA/Mars MAVEN

NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Wise/NEOWISE Telescope.

The University of Arizona students have been selected as Truman, Rhodes, Goldwater, and Fulbright Scholars. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, UArizona is among the top 25 producers of Fulbright awards in the U.S.

The University of Arizona is a member of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy , a consortium of institutions pursuing research in astronomy. The association operates observatories and telescopes, notably Kitt Peak National Observatory just outside Tucson.

National Science Foundation NOIRLab National Optical Astronomy Observatory Kitt Peak National Observatory on Kitt Peak of the Quinlan Mountains in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert on the Tohono O’odham Nation, 88 kilometers (55 mi) west-southwest of Tucson, Arizona, Altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft). annotated.

Led by Roger Angel, researchers in the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at The University of Arizona are working in concert to build the world’s most advanced telescope. Known as the Giant Magellan Telescope (CL), it will produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Earth-orbiting Hubble Telescope.

GMT Giant Magellan Telescope(CL) 21 meters, to be at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s NOIRLab NOAO Las Campanas Observatory(CL), some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile, over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high.

The telescope is set to be completed in 2021. GMT will ultimately cost $1 billion. Researchers from at least nine institutions are working to secure the funding for the project. The telescope will include seven 18-ton mirrors capable of providing clear images of volcanoes and riverbeds on Mars and mountains on the moon at a rate 40 times faster than the world’s current large telescopes. The mirrors of the Giant Magellan Telescope will be built at The University of Arizona and transported to a permanent mountaintop site in the Chilean Andes where the telescope will be constructed.

Reaching Mars in March 2006, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter contained the HiRISE camera, with Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen as the lead on the project. This National Aeronautics and Space Agency mission to Mars carrying the UArizona-designed camera is capturing the highest-resolution images of the planet ever seen. The journey of the orbiter was 300 million miles. In August 2007, The University of Arizona, under the charge of Scientist Peter Smith, led the Phoenix Mars Mission, the first mission completely controlled by a university. Reaching the planet’s surface in May 2008, the mission’s purpose was to improve knowledge of the Martian Arctic. The Arizona Radio Observatory , a part of The University of Arizona Department of Astronomy Steward Observatory , operates the Submillimeter Telescope on Mount Graham.

University of Arizona Radio Observatory at NOAO Kitt Peak National Observatory, AZ USA, U Arizona Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory at altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft).

Kitt Peak National Observatory in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert 88 kilometers 55 mi west-southwest of Tucson, Arizona in the Quinlan Mountains of the Tohono O’odham Nation, altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft)

The National Science Foundation funded the iPlant Collaborative in 2008 with a $50 million grant. In 2013, iPlant Collaborative received a $50 million renewal grant. Rebranded in late 2015 as “CyVerse”, the collaborative cloud-based data management platform is moving beyond life sciences to provide cloud-computing access across all scientific disciplines.

In June 2011, the university announced it would assume full ownership of the Biosphere 2 scientific research facility in Oracle, Arizona, north of Tucson, effective July 1. Biosphere 2 was constructed by private developers (funded mainly by Texas businessman and philanthropist Ed Bass) with its first closed system experiment commencing in 1991. The university had been the official management partner of the facility for research purposes since 2007.

U Arizona mirror lab-Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium?

University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, located in the Sonoran desert. An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why The University of Arizona is a university unlike any other.

University of Arizona Landscape Evolution Observatory at Biosphere 2.