Ever notice how hard it is to swat a fly? A core component of fly can be found in their wild insect eyes, which have multifaceted lenses to see in many directions at the same time.
Astronomers are now taking a page from the fly’s survival manual. They’re using the same optics concept to create a network of telescopes designed to find an asteroid hurtling toward the Earth—before it squashes humanity like a bug.
Flyeye is optimized to hunt for asteroids. Typical telescopes are made with narrow fields of view, which means they’re good for focusing on specific targets but not for scanning the sky for new ones. FlyEye’s compound lenses split a wide swatch of the sky into 16 parts, greatly expanding the overall field of view.
ESA will finish installing the first FlyEye telescope on Mount Mufara in Sicily in 2020. The plan is to build four total telescopes that could detect anything larger than 40 meters in diameter at least three weeks before a potential impact.
What happens if this skywatcher spots something dangerous? Flyeye data will be sent to the Minor Planet Center, run by the International Astronomical Union under a NASA grant. This is “the world’s central clearing house for all asteroid sightings,” according to ESA literature. Once the sighting is confirmed to be new, ESA staff at the Near-Earth Object Coordination Center in Italy will perform orbital calculations to determine if there’s any risk of the newfound object ever hitting Earth. The NEOCC maintains a database of the most hazardous asteroids and a risk list of the ones that could strike Earth (For a fun read, see the list.)
“No known asteroid is predicted to hit Earth in the next 100 years,” ESA says. “Hundreds of thousands, however, remain unseen and uncharted.”
Previously Published By: Popular Mechanics USA