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A team of scientists has proposed building an “interstellar interceptor,” a spacecraft capable of getting up close and personal with the next asteroid or comet to enter Earth. Solar System.
So far, astronomers have detected two such objects ringing through our star system: the cigar-shaped interstellar visitor Oumuamua, which was First spotted in October 2017 And made headlines like suspected space probeAnd comet 2I / Borisov, which astronomers First spotted in August 2019.
Sending a probe to investigate interstellar objects will allow astronomers to more accurately image the surfaces of space rocks and perhaps even sample the gases that seep from them. comet Spambots like 2i / Borisov. However, by the time telescopes discover such interstellar objects, it is too late to design, build, and launch spacecraft to hunt them down, so these travelers end up sailing through our star system and taking most of their secrets with them when they leave.
To overcome this problem, the researchers formulated and submitted a proposal to arXiv database prior to printing (Opens in a new tab) On November 3, their study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests that a space agency, such as NASA, build and launch an interstellar interceptor that can wait patiently in faraway places.a land orbit. Then, once astronomers detect an incoming interstellar object, the probe can fly in quickly to intercept the invader on its path through the solar system.
Related: Could there be a connection between the interstellar visitor ‘Oumuamua and unknown atmospheric phenomena?
The researchers suggested that the best place to store the interstellar interceptor in space would be one of the Lagrangian points on Earth. At these points in space, the gravitational pull of two large masses, in this case the Earth and the Sun, nearly cancel each other out, allowing smaller objects like satellites or asteroids to remain relatively fixed in one position, according to NASA (Opens in a new tab).
The team located the L2 Lagrange point, which is also home to NASA James Webb Space Telescopeas the best place to park the spacecraft because it would allow the probe to intercept a wide range of possible paths that space rocks might take through our cosmic neighborhood.
The proposed interstellar interceptor would wait in low-energy mode—perhaps for decades—until a suitable candidate was discovered, at which point scientists could send the probe to the best possible location to cut through the interferometer.
But we may not need to wait that long for the next visitor to come calling.
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Astronomers already suspect the existence of multiple interstellar objects They pass through the solar system unnoticed every year. New state-of-the-art telescopes have been created, such as Vera C. Rubin Observatory (Opens in a new tab) In Chile, which is expected to be fully operational in early 2024, it will allow scientists to discover more of these objects than ever before.
The authors of the new study predict that when Chile’s new observatory is fully operational, it will detect between one and 10 interstellar objects each year. So the researchers concluded that there is a 95% chance that an ‘Oumuamua-like intruder will be detected and observed by a possible interstellar interceptor within the next decade.
Related: Interstellar interstellar 2I/Borisov may be the purest comet ever seen
The researchers argued that now is the perfect time to build an interstellar interceptor, because it could be launched and put into orbit by the time we have the ability to detect more interstellar objects.
This isn’t the first time researchers have made plans to track these solar system visitors.
In February, a separate group of researchers suggested that by slingshotting a spacecraft around Earth, Venus, and then Jupiter, scientists could launch a probe Catch up and intercept Oumuamua in the outer reaches of the solar system, known as the Oort Cloud, which extends up to 100,000 times farther from the Sun than Earth, according to NASA (Opens in a new tab). However, for this to work, the proposed mission must be launched by 2028, or the mysterious object will be out of our reach forever.
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