ESA’s NEOMIR (Near-Earth Object Mission in the InfraRed) mission aims to monitor the interplanetary space , looking for ‘ghost’ bodies to prevent another Chelyabinsk disaster.
On Feb. 15, 2015, a small asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere exploding over the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia. The shock wave broke windows and damaged some buildings ,causing 1.500 injuries.
After the formation of the Solar System, all the rocky material not used by the planets for their accretion, subjected to the action of the strong solar winds and the migration of the gas giants, was concentrated in various zones of the system itself. Those zones are also called belts and the most important are: the Vulcan Belt, the Main Belt, the Kuiper Belt, and the Oort Cloud.
To say that the Solar System is a quiet and predictable place is quite wrong. Although catalogs of thousands of potentially hazardous objects to Earth have been compiled over several decades, danger can always lurk.
There are currently no known objects orbiting within 1.3 AU of the Earth, but this does not mean that the Earth is completely safe. Vulcanoids are orbiting the Sun, rocky objects about which very little is known as they are constantly hidden from the Sun’s glare.
The solution to the problem: a ‘fly-eye’ telescope
For several years now, the European Space Agency has been building a space telescope that will soon monitor the entire night sky in search of objects that have escaped the attention of telescopes on Earth and the human eye.
The ambitious European project, named NEOMIR, will be equipped with an innovative high-resolution camera system called the ‘fly-eye’, which will split the images it takes into 16 smaller ones to increase the field of view even further.
The NEOMIR project will probably be one of the most innovative projects ever undertaken in space exploration, as this small telescope will match the performance and resolution of large telescopes.
According to Gian Maria Pinna, from ESA’s SSA Programme Office, despite its small size, NEOMIR will be able to identify the orbit of an observed object as if it had been observed by a large operational network of ground-based telescopes.
NEOMIR is still under construction but is expected to be launched on an Ariane 6-2 rocket around 2030.
NEOMIR’s work in detail
NEOMIR will be sent to L1, the ideal Lagrangian point for continuous observation of the Sun since from this position it is never eclipsed by either the Earth or the Moon.
NEOMIR’s potential will not only be to observe space outside the Earth’s atmosphere, but also to ‘see’ in the infrared what is virtually impossible from Earth: the asteroidal ring around the Sun.
Using this technique, NEOMIR will be able to capture the heat emitted by asteroids that manage to escape the glare of the Sun’s light, but would otherwise be completely absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere.
According to some studies, NEOMIR can detect a 20-meter-long asteroid hitting the Earth for at least three days and up to about three weeks.
Meteoroids, meteors, meteorites and bolides: what confusion!
Space around Earth is teeming with rocky bodies of all shapes and sizes, called near-Earth objects (NEOs).
When an asteroid or comet comes into contact with the Earth’s upper atmosphere, it is subjected to friction in the atmosphere and begins to break up.
The first transformation the object undergoes takes place in the thermosphere (500-100 km altitude) and is that of a “meteoroid“.
Due to friction, the meteoroid begins to burn in the mesosphere (100-50 km altitude). This is where the second transformation of the object takes place, which is now called a “meteor“.
If the object is large enough, it will survive the friction of the mesosphere without too much difficulty and will continue to burn in the stratosphere (50-15 km altitude), where it will undergo a third transformation.
At this point, the object is called a “bolide”.
If lucky, the object will be torn apart by friction in this atmospheric zone, but in the worst case it will undergo a fourth transformation, becoming a “meteorite”, and it is the remnant of the original object that manages to hit the ground.