The European Space Agency (ESA) is seeking help from amateur astronomers to contribute to its herasteroid mission within five years,media reported. The space agency is collecting data from the private scientists to accurately select candidate asteroids as a flyover target for unmanned spacecraft en route to the Didymos binary system.
We know that deep space missions are not only expensive, extraordinarily complex, but also relatively small in number and space d’etat, so mission planners naturally want to spend all their money on cutting edge. Instead of focusing on the main target, scientists are now looking at other possible targets as they study them.
This is a strategy that has been used many times, such as the Voyager probe’s solar system edge exploration mission, New Horizons’ trip to the Kuiper Belt after the historic Pluto flight, and Rosetta’s asteroid imaging on its way to 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
By launch in 2024, THE ESA Hera spacecraft will spend two years in Didymos’ 770-day orbit, 10 million kilometers from the sun. In the meantime, it will pass with many asteroids on the inner edge of the asteroid belt — an opportunity not to be missed.
What is not enough, however, is that although thousands of asteroids have been discovered, most of them have not yet been mapped in their orbits and their properties have not been studied. They are just points of light moving in the background of a star — and that’s when they need data collected by amateurs.
Alan Fitzsimmons, a professor at Queen’s University Belfast and a member of hera’s research team, said: “Asteroid research is an area of astronomy and amateur astronomers continue to make an important contribution. So far, we’ve identified the candidate flying prey as nothing more than tiny points of light in the sky, very faint and invisible to the naked eye. We need as much help as possible to improve their orbits and measure their properties, which could provide clues to their properties before Hera launches in October 2024. “
So far ESA has a list of seven candidates for asteroids, which is used by the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) but they also need very precise data to make the necessary orbital calculations. This means more candidate data that these amateurs should be able to provide.