SPACEWATCH® is a NASA-funded program at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab that was founded in 1980 to keep track of hazardous asteroids and comets in our solar system that might pose an impact threat to Earth. The program, led by Principal Investigator Melissa Brucker, makes observations 24+ nights a month from Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Their most recent headline-grabbing collaboration was with the NASA DART mission, which smacked a small spacecraft into an asteroid to see how well it could deflect the rock from its orbital trajectory, as a test for planetary defense.
Eyes on the Sky: Spacewatch and the Catalina Sky Survey
The University of Arizona in Tucson hosts two of the most successful asteroid searches on our planet. Together, they have discovered, tracked, and characterized tens of thousands of objects, many of which could pose a threat to Earth.
The recent NASA mission to alter the course of a far-away asteroid is a headline-maker for the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Lab. The Lab is home for Spacewatch, a team of asteroid hunters searching for potentially threatening near-Earth objects. Melissa Brucker, principal investigator for Spacewatch, says the group is trying to discover more asteroids all the time, "so we can find them early enough to do something about it."
NASA’s DART satellite crashed into a small asteroid’s moon and successfully changed its path slightly in a closely-watched test of planetary defense. NASA meant to change the amount of time it took the moon to complete an orbit around its parent asteroid. The hoped-for figure was 73 seconds. The moon’s orbit was altered by a whopping 32 minutes.
“Several of us watched on the big screen TV we use for observing in our lab," said Brucker.
U of A Spacewatch scientists discovered the larger of the two asteroids targeted in the mission. Brucker says asteroid trackers have found 30,000 near-Earth objects of various shapes and sizes.