Could radar telescopes hold the key to protecting planet Earth?
According to the new decadal survey from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, one of the best tools to help protect the planet against the impact of near-Earth objects (NEOs) like asteroids is ground-based planetary radar. .
The decadal survey, in which researchers look ahead to the next ten years or more, calls for further development of radar systems to help in planetary protection using images of newly discovered NEOs. Those images could help determine the probability and severity of a potential impact. Fortunately, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which operates telescopes around the world, and the Green Bank Observatory (GBO) in West Virginia, are working on several of these projects.
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“Ground-based radar observations of NEOs provide invaluable information for long-term monitoring,” the survey said. “Because NEO impact energy scales with density, diameter, and velocity, and radar can constrain all of this, planetary radar observations are an important post-discovery characterization technique.”
Such tasks might once have been assigned to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, once the most powerful radar and radio telescope system in the world. but arecibo unexpectedly collapsed on December 2020, leaving a void in the industry.
However, the NRAO and GBO were already upgrading the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) in Hawaii and the Green Bench Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia to work with Arecibo when the disaster struck, and the two systems are now poised to help fill the void. (Having said that, the NRAO had made it clear that these two systems are not designed to be a total replacement for Arecibo).
“At NRAO and GBO, we have a long history of involvement in planetary radar studies, and we look forward to adding new capabilities to GBT and VLBA to produce a next-generation radar system that will serve as an essential tool for researchers in planetary science and planetary defence,” Patrick Taylor, NRAO and GBO Radar Division Chief, said in a statement.
Decadal Survey of Planetary Science and Astrobiology 2023–2032 was published on April 19, 2022.