NASA is busy developing an infrared space telescope called NEOCam – Near-Earth Object Camera. The Near Earth Object Camera will be used for saving humanity. How can a telescope save humanity? The goal of the Near Earth Object Camera is to spot near-Earth objects that are dangerous and could collide with our planet.
NASA believes that the probability of such collisions is quite high. Amy Mainzer, a scientist at CalTech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the principal investigator for the NEOCam project, said, ‘The question is, when is the next one going to happen on a human time scale as well as a geological time scale.’ Maizer had first proposed NEOCam back in 2005 and has been refining the Near-Earth Object Camera for the last 14 years.
In 2005, Congress passed a law that required NASA to find 90% of the objects that are bigger than 140 meters in diameter, and are near Earth. The space agency was given a deadline of 2020. Richard Binzel, an MIT planetary scientist who is not part of the NEOCam team, said, ‘I don’t lose sleep over the risk of an undiscovered asteroid impacting the Earth because the chances are small, but they are not zero. We have the capability, the adult responsibility, to simply know what’s out there. And NEOCam is basically ready to go.’
Time is of crucial importance as a space probe called IMAP is slated for launch in 2024 and shall be making its way for an orbit that is suitable for NEOCam. According to asteroid researchers, this is the best possible opportunity for launching the Near-Earth Object Camera. The only hurdle is securing approval and funding soon enough for making the deadline. Researchers are also looking into making use of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) for obtaining the near-Earth object data.
That will enable the researchers to identify 75% of the near-Earth objects but to achieve the target set by Congress; infrared observations need to be made from space. That is where the NEOCam comes into play. Let’s see how soon the project is able to reach its true potential!