Pan-STARRS discovers first potentially hazardous asteroid
The Pan-STARRS sky survey, which also involves scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, has discovered an asteroid that could come to within about 6 million kilometres of Earth in mid-October. This is the first "potentially hazardous object" (PHO) to be discovered by Pan-STARRS and has been given the designation "2010 ST3".
The Pan-STARRS survey was designed specifically to look for these kinds of asteroids. Most of the largest PHOs have already been catalogued, but scientists suspect that there are many more asteroids with a diameter of one kilometre or less that have not yet been discovered. While the Earth is continuously being bombarded by much smaller asteroids that burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere, the shockwave from larger rocks could devastate a large area. Such impacts are estimated to occur once every few thousand years.
The astronomers expect to discover tens of thousands of new asteroids with Pan-STARRS every year with sufficient precision to accurately calculate their orbits around the sun. However, Pan-STARRS has broader science goals as well: it will perform a unique programme of observing three quarters of the night sky in the systematic search for astronomical objects that change over time. MPE researchers will use the Pan-STARRS data to search for extra-solar planets, "failed stars" known as Brown Dwarfs, and for distant active galaxies.
Two images of 2010 ST3 (circled in green) taken by Pan-STARRS1 on the night of 16. September 2010 show the asteroid moving against the background field of stars and galaxies.
(klick on the image for full resolution)
Press Release by the Institute for Astronomoy, University of Hawaii
The Optical & Interpretative Astronomy Group at MPE: