Scientists draw up plans to intercept interstellar object: ScienceAlert

Scientists draw up plans to intercept interstellar object: ScienceAlert

We finally have the technological means to detect interstellar objects. We discovered two in the last few years,Oumuamua and 2I/Borisovand undoubtedly there are more.

As such, there has been a lot of interest in developing a mission that can visit one once we find it. But what would such a mission look like?

Now, huh paper draft by a team of mostly American scientists attempted to answer this question and brought us one step closer to launching such a mission.

Part of what makes the interstellar visitor mission interesting is that the interstellar visitors are so weird. Borisov behaved like a typical comet once it entered the Solar System, but ‘Oumuamua was a completely different beast.

It never developed a comet tail, as many scientists expected. It also showed acceleration that didn’t seem to be accounted for by radiation or other means, leading some prominent scientists to suggest that it might even be an alien probe.

The best way to combat such fantastical claims is to examine them carefully. And to do that, we have to have a mission to catch him. But first we need to see it, and astronomers are already working on it.

Investigating the legacy of space and time from the Vera C Rubin Observatory (LSST) will be able to detect anywhere between 1-10 interstellar objects of the same size as ‘Oumuamua each year, according to the authors’ calculations.

This is a great opportunity to find the right candidate. But what criteria should this candidate meet?

The most important would be “Where does it come from?” While there is no “best” angle for approaching an interstellar object (ISO), there is a difference depending on where we store the “interstellar intercept” (ISI).

According to the article, the best place for this is most likely the L2 Earth-Sun Lagrangian point. It has more than one advantage – firstly, very little fuel is needed to stay on station, and any ISI may have to wait in storage mode for years.

Once called into action, he must react quickly, and another L2 resident can help him do so.

NASA’s Time Spectroscopic Observatory (TSO) is a 1.5-meter telescope planned to be located at the L2 Lagrange point, along with better-known telescopes such as JWST.

For all its amazing ability to capture spectacular images, JWST has a significant weakness – it’s slow. Focusing on a specific subject can take 2-5 days, making it useless for ISO tracking. TSO, on the other hand, only takes a few minutes.

It may be complemented by another telescope, the planned Near Earth Object Surveyor, which is intended to reside at the L1 Lagrange point of the Earth-Moon system.

When combined with TSO, these two fast-reacting telescopes should be able to image any ISO that enters the inner Solar System that is not directly on a trajectory along the L1-L2 baseline.

Once detected, the next task is to get to the ISO. Some, unfortunately, will simply be inaccessible in terms of orbital mechanics.

But the authors estimate that there is an 85% chance that the ISI stored on L2 will be able to find a suitable object of interest that is the size of ‘Oumuamua within 10 years.

So, basically, once we’re able to detect the ISO, it’s just a matter of patiently waiting for the right opportunity.

Once the ISI reaches ISO, it can begin close-up observations, including a full spectroscopic map of both natural and man-made materials, which could help resolve the debate over whether such objects are alien-made probes.

It may also monitor for gas emissions, which could explain the mysterious forces acting on ‘Oumuamua.

There are undoubtedly many more exciting things scientists would like to know about the first interstellar object we visit.

But from the calculations in this paper, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so, and plenty of data to collect when we do. Then it’s time to move on to the planning stages!

This article was originally published by The universe today. Read on original article.

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