Tracking Asteroids and Comets
Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs, are comets and asteroids that travel along orbits that pass through Earth's neighbourhood (within 1.3 AU). Asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the formation of the rocky, inner planets, and comets are the leftover bits and pieces from the formation of the giant outer planets.
Aside from the potential of NEOs and asteroids to impact with other bodies in the Solar System, (including Earth), these objects are scientifically interesting as relatively unchanged remnants from the formation of the Solar System, 4.6 billion years ago. By uncovering the chemical makeup of these leftover building blocks, we can learn the ingredients of the primordial mixture from which the planets, and eventually life, formed.
LCO is helping to detect, track and accurately determine the orbits of NEOs and asteroids, in order to detect potentially dangerous objects. The versatility and design of the LCOGT network for providing rapid response to events makes LCOGT perfect for doing follow-up and characterization of NEOs and asteroids on a very short timescale after discovery. We run the only NEO follow-up facilities in the southern hemisphere, which is tremendously important to prevent newly discovered NEOs and asteroids from getting lost after discovery, and to track any possible new objects travelling on impact trajectories.
LCO is also able to calculate the rotation periods of NEOs and asteroids, which can tell us about their composition and shape. Rotation periods are known for <1% of all known NEOs and asteroids, so helping to get this information is very valuable.