Four Telescopes Observe the Universe to Detect Dangerous Asteroids

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The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy’s state-of the-art asteroid alarm system (IfA), can now scan the entire sky every 24 hours for potentially dangerous bodies. NASA funded the expansion of this system with two telescopes in South Africa, and Chile.

This system, named ATLAS, is designed to provide data about possible asteroid collisions with Earth. It consists of four telescopes: two on the American continent, to observe the north-hemisphere -in Mauna Loa and Hale akala, Maui – and two on the South Africa and Chile for the southern hemisphere.

John Tonry, University of Hawaii at Manoa Institute for Astronomy, principal investigator of ATLAS, stated that an asteroid can strike the Earth at any time and from any direction.

The new telescopes located in South Africa and Chile were chosen for their ability to view the southern sky. They also have a time difference with Hawaii, so they can observe nighttime when it is daylight in Hawaii. AtLAS, a four-telescope system that monitors the entire dark sky every 24-hours, is the first to be able to detect hazardous asteroids.

Tonry claims that the ATLAS system can give a warning of a 20-meter-diameter asteroid within one day. This asteroid could cause destruction at city-level. ATLAS can give up to three weeks notice for larger asteroids, which can be detected farther away. This can allow ATLAS to provide a warning of a 100-meter-diameter asteroid that could cause widespread destruction in the region. If it struck the Earth, an asteroid this large could cause 10 times as much destruction as the Hunga Tonga volcano eruption.

The ATLAS system has already discovered over 700 comets and more than 700 asteroids near Earth. ATLAS-Sutherland, South Africa, discovered 2022 BK (a 100-meter-wide asteroid) on January 22. It is currently not a threat to Earth.